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New London's choice of salt will not help reduce pile at State Pier

New London — The city plans to buy about 2,000 tons of treated road salt in preparation for winter but it won’t be coming from the massive salt pile, owned by DRVN Enterprises, at State Pier.

DRVN has a Dec. 31 deadline to remove or forfeit the salt and equipment to the Connecticut Port Authority. But, unlike in past years, the company was not the low bidder for the region in a bidding process conducted by the Capitol Region Purchasing Council, which is run by the Capitol Region Council of Governments. New London is a member of the purchasing council, which is open to all municipalities across Connecticut.

The low bidder was Champion Salt, whose local operation is located at the Port of New Haven’s Gateway Terminal. Gateway also was running State Pier until the state opted to forgo regular cargo operations in advance of the $157 million conversion of the pier to accommodate the offshore wind industry.

Champion beat out DRVN and two other companies, Cargill Inc. and Morton Salt Inc., with a low bid for the region’s salt needs. DRVN was outbid in three of the six designated regions in which it placed bids. Cargill was the low bidder in four of the regions and Morton Salt in two. Eastern Salt Company Inc. also entered several unsuccessful bids.

New London Public Works Director Brian Sear said the $63.86 cost per ton of salt offered by Champion in Region 3 is lower than he's seen in past years and in his opinion the company has a superior product, less sticky, compared to some others.

The City Council recently approved buying up to 2,000 tons for a total cost of $127,720. The city is not obligated to buy salt it doesn’t need, however, and can order more as needed. The city typically uses between 1,600 and 1,800 tons of salt a year.

“The last couple of years we’ve engaged DRVN Enterprises,” Sear said. “This year they were not the low bidder for our region.”

DRVN, meanwhile has a Dec. 31 deadline to move its estimated 90,000 tons of salt off of State Pier or the salt will be forfeited to the Connecticut Port Authority as part of an agreement signed in August.

As part of the agreement, DRVN may be asked to provide the port authority with an action plan for removal of the salt and has agreed “to participate, and to cause any lender holding a security interest in the DRVN Salt ... to participate, in good faith discussions regarding the removal of the DRVN Salt ...”

Connecticut Port Authority Board Chairman David Kooris said the authority does not want to be in the salt business. “We’re very hopeful that DRVN sells their salt at CV (Central Vermont Railroad) Pier before year's end or finds an alternative location to store it,” he said.

Options for the Connecticut Port Authority would be to sell it directly to a salt company or transfer it to Gateway Terminal in New Haven, one of the limited number of local facilities that could accommodate the salt. A move to New Haven, Kooris said, was “not inevitable.”

DRVN’s president, Steve Farrelly, had lobbied for extra time to be allowed to sell the salt and has said the success of his business hinges on access to the port. Farrelly, whose company revived salt imports to State Pier in 2014, was not immediately available to comment for this report.

With the recent loss of rented space near the city’s Public Works facility, Sear said the salt will be stored in a temporary salt shed to be constructed on the former basketball courts of the city-owned property that is home to the vacant former Thames River Apartments on Crystal Avenue.

It’s unclear how many other local municipalities use the CRPC for their salt contract this year.

Jessica Muirhead, senior project manager for CRCOG, said the Capitol Region Purchasing Council conducts competitive public bidding processes for some common commodities and services, including treated road salt. 

For commodity bids, such as treated road salt, individual CRPC members make their own awards from bid results. The CRPC does not award contracts centrally, she said. New London participated in the most recent bidding process for treated road salt, for which the contract period is July 1, 2020, through June 30, 2021.

g.smith@theday.com

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