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State Pier wind project gets public hearing

New London — State environmental officials will conduct a virtual public hearing Tuesday afternoon on a permit application for work at State Pier, the proposed site of an estimated $200 million project that will initially accommodate the offshore wind industry.

The state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection issued a tentative approval of the application in December following a monthslong review of a project first submitted in 2019 by the Connecticut Port Authority. Tuesday’s public hearing is another step in the process that continues March 30 with an evidentiary hearing. A timeline for a final decision by the commissioner is unclear, but the start of the major work on the project is contingent on this approval.

The application is a request to conduct work that will include maintenance dredging of berthing areas and installation of a sheet pile bulkhead between State Pier and the adjacent Central Vermont Railroad Pier. If approved, about 7 acres of water between the piers will be filled in to accommodate construction of one larger pier.  

Tuesday’s public hearing begins at 3 p.m. and will include a brief presentation from the Connecticut Port Authority and DEEP staff before the hearing is open for public comment. The application is available online at https://statepiernewlondon.com/documents.

The proposed project is the result of an investment by the state and a partnership between Danish offshore wind company Ørsted and utility company Eversource. An agreement has them sharing the costs of what had been a $157 million project. Updated estimates put the project closer to $200 million, though a final plan has not been finalized.

The pier is expected to be used as a staging area with the ability to handle heavy cargo and dock larger vessels being used to transport wind turbine components to proposed offshore wind farms.

While Ørsted has several offshore wind farms planned, its only constructed project in the U.S. is the five turbines off Block Island, which became operational in 2016.

DEEP has been accepting comments about the project since last year.

Advocates of the project see it as an opportunity for the state to meet its renewable energy goals, modernize the port and provide an economic boost for the region. Opponents have criticized the use of the pier exclusively for the offshore wind industry. They say it has displaced previous State Pier tenants and filling in a large portion of the Thames River has the potential to hurt the environment. 

Ørsted and Eversource issued a joint statement in support of the project.

“For decades, the State Pier has been underutilized. The proposed redevelopment plan will expand the capability of the State Pier to support larger, more impactful projects, including but not limited to offshore wind turbine staging. In addition, this project will bring a modernized port facility to southeast Connecticut and dramatically expand the economic and job opportunities available to the state. Furthermore, the proposed improvements will complement and present opportunities to expand the existing local high-tech maritime economy.”

In a letter submitted to DEEP in January, project opponent Patti Harrison voiced the concerns of many critics.

“At a minimum we need to stop the fill in and allow the local business to continue to use the port and to prevent a monopoly on the ports. Best would be to stop the wind project,” Harrison wrote. “For the amount of money and destruction going into this fiasco I don't see an equivalent true payoff for our environment. Damaging the existing environment for an overpriced project that doesn't really produce enough electricity is just not common sense.”

The Connecticut Port Authority is working to find a suitable alternate location for the two commercial fishing operations based at Central Vermont Pier.

New London has obtained intervening party status for the project, which allows it to submit testimony and participate in the evidentiary hearing. The city initially submitted testimony criticizing the project, saying it would not financially benefit the city. New London Mayor Michael Passero has since signed a host community agreement that ensures the city will receive at least $5.2 million over seven years with the possibility for more revenue if the state agrees to buy more offshore wind power.

DRVN Enterprises owner Steven Farrelly has a pending request with DEEP to become an intervening party in the case. DRVN’s road salt distribution business is being displaced by the project.

g.smith@theday.com

Public comment

Written public comments may be submitted to the hearing officer at brendan.schain@ct.gov">brendan.schain@ct.gov until the close of business on March 26.

To register for the public comment session on Zoom, go to: https://ctdeep.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_FSd3ok_kTrCsajxj-gprmw

For more information visit the state DEEP website at www.ct.gov/DEEP.

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