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Port authority extends time for salt distributor at State Pier; signs painted pink

New London — The Connecticut Port Authority formalized an agreement with local road salt distributor DRVN Enterprises this week that will keep the company, and its massive pile of salt, at State Pier through the end of the year.

The port authority met virtually on Tuesday to approve the agreement that will allow DRVN to remain through Dec. 31 so long as the pile of 90,000 tons of salt is moved closer to the Central Vermont Railroad Pier, or CV Pier, in order to accommodate ongoing site work.

The work is being conducted in anticipation of the start of a $157 million project to upgrade and modernize the pier as it is transformed into an offshore wind hub for joint venture partners Ørsted and Eversource.

DRVN, which had been paying a $12,000 per month rent to port operator Gateway, will be staying on site rent-free, which essentially offsets the cost to DRVN for relocating the salt and associated equipment, said David Kooris, interim chairman of the board of the Connecticut Port Authority.

“The agreement runs to Dec. 31, at which time it’s imperative the facility be cleared to allow the construction project to advance,” Kooris said.

No new salt will be brought in but Kooris said the extra time may allow DRVN to sell some of the salt. The company has been supplying road salt to local municipalities since 2014 and company owner Steve Farrelly has said the discounted prices were achieved through access to the pier. He had not found a new location as of last month.

If the salt is not gone by Dec. 31, it will be forfeited and become the property of the Connecticut Port Authority. Farrelly could not be reached for comment for this report.

The port authority has enlisted engineering firm AECOM to find potential sites for the relocation of two commercial fishing outfits still working off of CV Pier. Kooris said there is not yet a formal agreement with Montville-based Donna May Fisheries or Waterford-based Out Of Our Shell Enterprises, but the fishermen will be allowed to stay on a month-to-month basis for the time being. Areas for relocation are being explored along the New London shoreline, including Fort Trumbull.

Construction at State Pier is expected to last until 2022 and involve activities that include filling in between the two existing piers to create one larger pier. Ørsted/Eversource will lease the new facility for 10 years with options to extend the lease.

Pink paint a sign of protest

U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, which has received a permit application from the port authority for proposed work at State Pier, is currently soliciting comments from the public and local, state and federal agencies.

While the port authority has argued that the pier will be able to accommodate cargo during breaks in the wind activity and after the end of the lease agreement with Ørsted/ Eversource, critics have argued that exclusive use of the port by the wind industry will negatively impact the region since it excludes cargo ships.

The Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments’ executive committee, for example, recently voted to have its director draft a letter to the state Department of Transportation to draw attention to what are expected to be negative impacts on freight transport in the region.

Port authority critic Kevin Blacker of Noank, who has lobbied for a halt to the entire redevelopment plan, spoke at Tuesday’s port authority meeting and argued that the group has broken the law by not holding public hearings and by taking actions without an executive director. He said the “eviction” of State Pier tenants violates the Coastal Management Act, since it is not accommodating existing water-dependent users at the pier.

“Somebody needs to hold the port authority accountable,” Blacker said. “When I break the law and interrupt your meeting, I am arrested. I expect to be arrested for painting your signs pink, as I should be. The same level of accountability should be applied to the port authority for breaking the law.”

In February, Blacker was led away in handcuffs during a Port Authority vote on the $157 million plan of redevelopment.

Several directional signs on State Pier Road, leading to State Pier, were painted pink over the weekend. Blacker, on Wednesday, said he painted three signs. As for his choice of color, he said he wanted to ensure the public noticed the similarities between what is happening at State Pier and what happened at Fort Trumbull “and to draw attention to something that is not right.”

Former New London resident Susette Kelo, who owned a pink cottage on the Fort Trumbull peninsula, was one of a handful of holdouts who fought the city’s attempt to take private land by eminent domain. It led to the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case Kelo v. City of New London, in which the city ultimately prevailed but was later vilified by the public.

Kooris on Tuesday said the port authority would be contacting local authorities to report the vandalism.

g.smith@theday.com

Editor's Note: This version corrects that the Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments agreed to draft a letter to the state Department of Transportation.

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