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New London State Pier project obtains crucial state permit

New London — State Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Commissioner Katie Dykes on Tuesday issued a decision that clears one of the final hurdles for the $235.5 million redevelopment of State Pier.

Dykes, in the six-page decision, approved the application by the Connecticut Port Authority for permits that will allow dredging, use of dredge material to fill between State Pier and the Vermont Central Railroad Pier to create a “Central Wharf” and other “in-water” work such as bulkhead construction.

The project has yet to be awarded a federal permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, though port authority officials on Tuesday expressed confidence the permit was forthcoming.

When completed, the rebuilt State Pier initially will accommodate work by the offshore wind industry. Ørsted and Eversource, contributing $75 million toward the project, plan to use the site for staging and assembly of massive wind turbines to be floated to wind farms expected to be constructed off the East Coast. The city of New London stands to receive at a minimum $850,000 per year in new revenue from the property that has long been tax-exempt.

Tuesday’s approval affirms an earlier proposed decision by staff at DEEP and comes over objections of former State Pier tenant DRVN Enterprises. DRVN, an intervenor in the process, had attempted to block the permit, raising concerns over the eviction of a water-dependent user. Others in the community had voiced concerns about the pier being solely dedicated to the wind industry and sidelining traditional cargo while the Ørsted/Eversource lease from port operator Gateway is in place.

DRVN had used State Pier since 2014 to import and store road salt used by numerous municipalities across the region.

DRVN's "frustration with the cessation of its business activity at the State Pier is apparent but by itself does not support the findings it seeks,” Dykes wrote in her decision.

“...the Intervenor contends that its particular use of the pier enjoys a level of protection that supersedes the rights of the Applicant. This assertion is not supported by the applicable statutory and regulatory criteria. The Coastal Management Act (the “Act”) gives ‘highest priority and preference to water dependent uses, including but not limited to commercial and recreational fishing and boating uses’ when an existing pier is redeveloped.”

Connecticut Port Authority Executive Director John Henshaw said while 98% of the planned work has been awarded to contractors, certain work in the water cannot go forward without the federal permit in hand.

He expressed excitement at news of the permit.

“Once completed the facility will be the only deepwater port facility in the Northeast that meets the heavy-lift standards of the offshore wind industry, without air draft restrictions or other obstructions that could limit operations,” Henshaw said in a statement.

When the final permit is obtained, he said, “the attention will remain focused on finalizing the remaining construction work packages, maintaining the project’s cost, advancing construction and delivering the final project at the end of 2022, as scheduled.”

The State Bond Commission in July approved the final $50 million of the state’s $160.5 million contribution toward the project. Initial estimates of the cost have risen dramatically since it was first proposed as a $93 million project.

Attorney Keith Anthony, who represented DRVN Enterprises, said he had not yet discussed with DRVN owner Steve Farrelly the options that might be available to appeal DEEP’s decision.

g.smith@theday.com

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