New London development plan adds wrinkle to designs for State Pier

New London — The city is awaiting a decision by the state on whether it will challenge a development plan enacted in the 1990s that governs activity at State Pier and the 125 acres surrounding the port.

The existence of the State Pier Municipal Development Plan adds a wrinkle, potentially an obstacle, to the $93 million in planned infrastructure improvements at the pier.

The Connecticut Port Authority, which still is finalizing a harbor development plan to establish the pier as an offshore wind hub, has not publicly addressed the issue of the MDP.

New London Mayor Michael Passero, in a recent interview with The Day, said he met with Connecticut Port Authority board Chairman David Kooris earlier this month to discuss the potential impact of the MPD on those plans.

The state has sought a legal interpretation, he said.

“We went over the fact (that the state) has an obligation now to provide us with a legal justification if their opinion is that the MDP no longer controls their development of the property,” Passero said.

At the very least, revising terms of the MDP would set into motion a statutory process in which minor modifications need to go before the city’s development arm — the Renaissance City Development Association — for approval. Major modifications are likely to set in motion public hearings and subsequently require approval by the City Council.

Passero welcomes the investment in the pier but continues to lobby for more revenue diverted to his tax-starved city.

The troubled port authority, meanwhile, has yet to fully disclose terms of the deal with Bay State Wind — a joint venture between Danish offshore wind giant Ørsted and electric utility Eversource — to convert the pier into an offshore wind hub. Part of that plan, which was announced in May, is to merge State Pier with the adjacent Central Vermont Railroad Pier and increase the facility's heavy lift capability to accommodate incoming wind turbines, according to the port authority’s pending application with the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

The state has committed $35.5 million toward the infrastructure improvements, with construction slated to start in 2020.

The MDP, Passero said, was developed to stimulate economic growth in the eastern portion of the city, but he also argues it “expressly doesn’t contemplate any impact on coastal waters.” Shoreline activities are governed by the state’s Coastal Management Act.

“The whole plan to fill in between the two piers is inconsistent with the MDP,” Passero said.

“We’re not throwing this up as a roadblock. We have no interest in the MDP jeopardizing this deal. We’re saying here’s an issue you have to deal with,” Passero said. “They have to bring their plan to within the four corners of the MDP.”

The MDP further addresses a goal of diversity and increasing the port’s access to rail and highways, as opposed to a single use contemplated under the agreement with Bay State Wind.

Kooris did not immediately return calls and emails from The Day seeking the state’s stance on the MDP.

The MDP, like the one in place at Fort Trumbull, was set up with strict statutory language by the city’s development arm, at the time named New London Development Corp., and the state Department of Economic and Community Development. The plan follows the same model as Fort Trumbull, though the 8.6-acre area cleared for development at State Pier, which had included more than a dozen homes, was acquired without the use of eminent domain. The New London Development Corp. is now known as the Renaissance City Development Association.

RCDA Executive Director Peter Davis said the idea behind the MDP was to assemble the properties and market the land to commercial operations in support of existing state port activities. The property instead was conveyed to the state at no cost and incorporated into the more than 20 acres of state-owned pier property.

It remains a sticking point for Passero, who said the move has led to a major loss of tax revenue, which the city calculates to be about $1 million per year now and $3 million per year once upgrades at the pier are completed. The state now pays the city about $125,000 per year through the payment in lieu of taxes program.

Part of the agreement between the port authority and Gateway, the firm selected earlier this year by the port authority to run State Pier, guarantees New London an additional $125,000 annually — at least a $50,000 cut from port activity plus an additional $75,000 to help defray costs of municipal services.

Passero said that money is inadequate and the deal was supposed to include a permanent seat on the port authority. The city does not yet have a seat.

Of the long-term agreement being negotiated between the port authority and Bay State Wind, Passero said the addition of tax revenue to the city would amount to “crumbs off the table.”

As far as he can tell, Passero said, “right now Ørsted and Eversource are saying to us, 'We’re not even giving you the crumbs off the table.'”

“Why should Ørsted and Eversource get a free pass on their tax obligations to the city of New London? It’s a private industry making billions of dollars,” he said.

Passero said the port authority has not been transparent throughout the process and he was unaware in May, when an agreement with Bay State Wind was announced, that the agreement had not yet been consummated.

“They’re finalizing contracts based on what they called a term sheet that they announced in May. I don’t know what’s in that term sheet. It’s not public information,” he said.

Some of that might become clearer when the port authority holds its public information meeting on the State Pier infrastructure improvements starting at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Holiday Inn, 35 Gov. Winthrop Blvd. There is expected to be a presentation followed by public comment session. Details of what might be announced are unclear.

Passero maintains the wind industry using New London Harbor to build components of its offshore wind farms is “a great opportunity for the region, the city and the state.”

“This industry is going to generate billions of dollars of revenue and it’s going to be centralized here in New London. How could you not want that to succeed? Of importance to the city is that it is not overlooked in receiving its fair share of the economic boom that the wind industry is going to bring to the State Pier.”

G.smith@theday.com

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