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New London wants state to fund new pier for displaced fishermen

New London — The city is calling on the Connecticut Port Authority to help establish a new home for two commercial fishing businesses being displaced from State Pier.

The city says it’s found a spot on its waterfront for a new pier but doesn't have the money to fund a project. Mayor Michael Passero is calling on the port authority to provide the funding.

The fishermen — Montville-based Donna May Fisheries and Waterford-based Out of Our Shell Enterprises — are among the tenants of State Pier being displaced by a $157 million project to redevelop it into a staging and assembly hub for the offshore wind industry.

The redevelopment project is a partnership between the Connecticut Port Authority, Ørsted and Eversource.

The fishermen, both of whom have called State Pier home for nearly two decades, have already been granted a four month extension — to July 31 — to work from the pier. But another extension seems unlikely as the Port Authority looks to secure permits and start remediation work at the site. Longshoreman who used to handle cargo at the pier are already out of work.

Passero said the city has done its own work to find the fishermen a new home and identified an area at the end of the Bank Street Connector to build a new pier. The cost, he said, is out of reach for the city.

“New London will offer the waterfront … but we certainly don’t have the resources to build the pier,” Passero said. “It’s going to cost money to solve the problem. They can’t just kick them out and put them out of business.”

Passero, in an exchange with Joe Salvatore, a project manager for the Connecticut Port Authority at a recent New London Harbor Commission meeting, said the port authority has unfairly left the issue to the city to handle.

“You say you’ll work with us, but there’s been absolutely no commitment on the part of the Connecticut Port Authority to come up with the money to put a dock in so that these boats can move over to it,” he said.

The city’s Harbor Management Commission has written to DEEP, arguing that the relocation of the fishermen is part of the required mitigation of a project that impacts an existing water-dependent use on the shoreline. Salvatore said authority simply doesn’t have the money to fund such a move but said the port authority remains committed to working cooperatively with the city to find a solution.

“This is a tough one in my opinion,” Salvatore said. “The Connecticut Port Authority does not have any more dock space anywhere.”

“You don’t seem to have the funding for the little guy, but when you ran into the problem with Cross Sound Ferry it was pretty easy to come up with another $50 or $60 million to solve that problem,” Passero countered.

Passero made reference to the increase in cost of the redevelopment project, which was originally $93 million. Some of the spike in the price tag is attributed to alterations of the plan to accommodate Cross Sound Ferry’s concerns about navigation of its ferries around the pier.

The Connecticut Port Authority last week resubmitted a permit application to Army Corps of Engineers and state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, addressing what were deemed insufficiencies by DEEP in the original permit application submitted last year. Work at the pier is slated to start this year with demolition of buildings and other needed upgrades that include updated security fencing, lighting, and water and electrical supplies.

“You’re not going to be able to have people coming in and out through remediation work,” Salvatore said.

John Johnson, a member of both the city’s Harbor Management Commission and the port authority, called for an extension of time for the fishermen “while we’re looking for an alternative site.” The port authority still has a host of permits to obtain before the bulk of the project at State Pier can get underway including congressional approval. 

A key to the project is the congressional deauthorization of a Long Dock Branch Channel, which Salvatore said is a federal channel that runs between both pier sections. Salvatore said it was a historical authorization made when the Central Vermont Pier was built and predates State Pier.

The deauthorization is expected to be approved by October as part of the Water Resource Development Act.

g.smith@theday.com

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