New London commission submits input for State Pier plans

New London — The New London Harbor Management Commission is asking state environmental officials and the Connecticut Port Authority to retain a diverse mix of water, rail and land-based operations at State Pier.

The request is one of several contained in a six-page letter sent Wednesday to the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection's Land and Water Resources Division, the entity reviewing the port authority’s application to enlarge and update State Pier to accommodate the storage and assembly of elements of off-shore wind turbines.

“While the near-term opportunities for economic benefits associated with the use of State Pier to support the off-shore wind-energy industry are recognized, the Project should not diminish future port capabilities for docking, unloading, and storage of diverse cargoes,” the commission’s letter states. “In this regard, the Project should not diminish future opportunities for use of existing rail connections.”

Converting the pier into an exclusive-use facility has been a bone of contention among critics of the estimated $93 million project. David Kooris, acting chairman of the port authority's board, has said that during construction the pier would be used exclusively by the offshore wind industry but there is room for more diverse cargo coming in between and during lulls in that activity.

The commission’s letter is a compilation of comments and recommendations that the commission feels will better protect the city when the project gets underway, Harbor Commission Chairwoman Kathy Walburn said.

The New London Harbor Management Commission also acts as the New London Port Authority and is in the final stages of developing the city’s first Harbor Management Plan.

“We’re just concerned that even though it’s state property, this is in New London and we want to make sure New London gets some benefit from the project and assurances there are no conflicts of any kind as the project goes ahead,” Walburn said.

The Connecticut Port Authority’s application remains under review by DEEP and Walburn said she expects DEEP will take any concerns into consideration during its review process. DEEP deemed the port authority's initial application, received May 7, 2019, “insufficient” but has been working with the port authority to gather additional input to meet requirements, a DEEP spokesman has said.

Construction is slated to start in 2020 on the project, which includes the filling in of 7 acres between the facility's two piers — the Admiral Harold E. Shear Marine Terminal and Central Vermont Railroad Pier — along with demolition of buildings, maintenance dredging of berthing areas and installation of new drainage and stormwater treatment systems.

The Connecticut Port Authority initially sidestepped a requirement to garner local input on the project, the harbor management commission claims, failing to submit pre-application plans for review locally as required by the DEEP application process.

Representatives from the Connecticut Port Authority — board member Joseph Salvatore and retired Navy Capt. Paul Whitescarver, a consultant for the port authority — met with the New London Port Authority on Sept. 26.

Among other recommendations by the commission is a “robust public review process, and a detailed economic analysis of maritime industry opportunities and constraints.” It asks that the plan be consistent with the 1999 State Pier Management plan, though state officials contend that the plan does not apply. The commission also calls for environmental stewardship and sustainability, mitigation of the impacts of construction and preservation of “scenic quality in the New London Harbor Management Area...”

The commission asks that DEEP’s review process include formal consultation with local stakeholders, including the Coast Guard, Navy, General Dynamics and Cross Sound Ferry, to avoid conflicts between use of the pier and ferries operating in Winthrop Cove.

The commission requests that consideration be given to the movement of the commercial fishing fleet now operating at the Central Vermont Railroad Pier. At least four vessels operate from that pier. Mayor Michael Passero said he is working with stakeholders to explore the idea of Fisherman’s Pier, on the city’s waterfront, as a new location for the fleet.

Walburn said the commission has not taken a formal vote to express support or opposition to the state’s plan.

Passero said that his sense is the commission “overall, broadly supports the offshore wind industry investment in state pier ... and recognizes all of the opportunities that presents.”

“There’s no issue we’ve raised that isn’t already a challenge that the parties are working through,” Passero said.

The New London Port Authority members are Walburn, Passero, Kenneth Edwards, Samatha Egger, John S. Johnson, Michael Kegler and Karl J. Saszik. Edwards said he has recused himself from discussion of State Pier issues because of his employment at ThayerMahan, a Groton business that stands to benefit from the pier improvements.

Johnson is also a member of the Connecticut Port Authority.

g.smith@theday.com

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