Early reaction to state's wind deal positive in New London

New London — Plans for major upgrades at State Pier in New London to accommodate the offshore wind industry were met with optimism and a hint of skepticism from the public during a hearing Tuesday.

Union laborers are excited by the prospect of hundreds of “real jobs” landing in New London, and environmentalists applauded the state’s commitment to the use of renewable energy.

But some questioned whether New London was getting short-changed in the pending deal, while others wondered if there was an alternative to filling in seven acres of the Thames River to enlarge the pier.

Tuesday’s public meeting at the Holiday Inn drew hundreds of spectators and dozens of people lining up to voice their opinion on the proposed transformation of State Pier that was first announced in May.

It was the first public forum held on the plan.

The meeting was jointly hosted by the Connecticut Port Authority, State Pier operator Gateway and the joint venture of Danish wind company Ørsted and Eversource, the parties nearing the end of negotiations on what is expected to be a $93 million public and private investment in the pier.

Information on negotiations up to this point was mostly conducted outside of public view, which has led to frustrations over a lack of transparency. The port authority also has problems of its own, as shown by the dismissal of the former executive director and shakeup in membership.

“We do have problems with this particular deal that I think we need to recognize, work on and fix and move forward. The port authority is one of those issues we need to address. We need to ensure we have a transparent system,” remarked state Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague.

She was among others to advocate for New London, saying, “Very often the state takes the lion’s share of the revenue,” while it is the host city providing the services.

Others questioned whether it was a good idea to allow the pier to be strictly for the offshore wind industry, especially considering recent investments in the adjoining rail lines.

“This new proposed restriction on who’s going to be using the port facility, allowing only the exclusive use of the State Pier area by wind power, would have disastrous effects on other businesses and is viewed by some as an inappropriate use of Connecticut state property to benefit a utility industry,” Edward Johnson of Groton said.

“I’m a Connecticut taxpayer. It looks like there’s $35 million worth of my tax money being used for this. Let’s allow the port to remain open in some fashion for the remaining industries,” he said.

Richard Hine, chief operating officer of Thayer Mahan in Groton, a company that designs and manufactures systems to collect acoustic and electronic information on the world's oceans, said, “Don’t blow this opportunity over administrative and bureaucratic issues and problems.”

“I’m confident (Ørsted) is the kind of company this city needs,” Hine said. “We have a unique workforce here in Connecticut that we’re currently tapping into that Ørsted and Eversource can continue to tap into. So, let it happen.”

Ørsted received accolades from representatives from the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut, the Southeastern CT Enterprise Region, the Norwich-New London Building Trades Council and New London Seafood Distributors, whose commercial fishing fleet operates off the pier at Fort Trumbull.

New London Seafood owner Gary Yerman said he started as a skeptic of the offshore wind industry, but concerns have since addressed. Yerman has gone so far as to travel to Ireland to speak to fishermen there and explore the impacts of windfarms on the European fishermen there.

“Although nothing is perfect, what we found is a community rebuilt on the opportunity that wind power provided. An expanded fishing port, a revitalized downtown, people thriving instead of just surviving,” Yerman said.

Yerman said he planned to work with Ørsted to find a permanent home to the fisherman operating off State Pier who are expected to be relocated once construction begins next year. He said he is hoping to coordinate the movement of the fishermen to Fort Trumbull.

In addition to the several legislators who addressed the crowd on Tuesday, more than two dozen people were signed up for public comment. Commenting was still ongoing at press time.

g.smith@theday.com

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