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Judge dismisses complaint over permit at State Pier in New London

New Britain — A Superior Court judge on Wednesday dismissed an appeal by a former State Pier tenant seeking to overturn the state’s decision to issue a permit for work at the pier in New London.

Judge John Louis Cordani ruled that DRVN Enterprises Inc., a road salt business that had operated at State Pier until earlier this year, lacks standing to appeal a decision by the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to issue a permit to the Connecticut Port Authority for dredging in the Thames River and other work needed to complete the pier project.

DRVN's lease was terminated earlier this year, prior to the start of the $235.5 million project to transform and modernize State Pier into an offshore wind hub. DRVN argued in its complaint that the loss of the use of the pier to import salt has severely impacted its business.

John Casey, the attorney for the Connecticut Port Authority, at a hearing on Monday had compared DRVN’s argument to that of a former tenant at a shopping mall with an expired lease who had moved out but was trying to dictate mall renovations to the owner.

Judge Cordani, in his decision, agreed that DRVN had conflated issues of its lease and the issuance of the state permit.

“DRVN, as of February 28, 2021, has no ongoing right to use, possess or control any portion of the pier, and has no right to any particular relationship with the Port Authority. As of February 28, 2021, DRVN’s interest in the pier is no different than any member of the public in general, which is no specific interest,” Cordani wrote in his decision.

Cordani said DRVN’s desire to continue to use the pier, absent some legal right, was insufficient to establish standing in the case. DRVN, he said, had not directly challenged the termination of its right to use the pier.

DRVN attorney Keith Anthony did not respond to a request for comment on the decision. He has argued that DEEP’s decision to issue a permit “failed to give adequate protection to DRVN and other water dependent users.” The company also had argued that DEEP had failed to address adverse impacts of the pier renovations on “all interested parties, including DRVN, and failed to address the efforts to mitigate those adverse impacts and conduct a balancing test of all competing interests.”

DRVN has operated at State Pier since 2014, the year it signed a contract with former port operator Logistec USA Inc. In 2019–20, DRVN said in court documents it imported and distributed 198,000 tons of salt, employed 14 full-time employees and had revenues totaling about $13 million.

Gateway New London LLC took over operation of State Pier in 2019 and gave DRVN until this February to vacate the pier while the Connecticut Port Authority moved ahead with renovation plans, a project funded by the state and wind partners Ørsted and Eversource. DRVN claims its revenues, as a result of the loss of use of State Pier, have dropped to $4.5 million for 2021–22, it now has only five full-time employees and is projected to distribute just 60,000 tons of salt.

The Connecticut Port Authority, which still awaits a federal permit to be able to complete the work at State Pier, issued a statement in response to Wednesday’s dismissal.

“The Authority is pleased that the judge’s ruling concurred with our longstanding position that DRVN, as a prior customer of the facility, lacks standing to oppose the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection's permit for the project,” the statement reads in part. “The project will re-make State Pier as a modern, heavy-lift capable terminal as has been planned for decades. These improvements, paired with our agreement with our partners Orsted and Eversource, enable the burgeoning offshore wind industry to establish a base of operations in New London, resulting in significant economic development opportunities for the region.”

Noank resident Kevin Blacker, an opponent of the work at State Pier, said that prior to the ruling he filed a complaint against Judge Cordani with the Judicial Review Council.

His complaint provides a list of potential conflicts of interest, including the fact that Cordani, prior to becoming a judge, was a partner with Carmody, Torrance, Sandak & Hennessey, which represents Eversource, one of the partners funding the development at State Pier.

Blacker also mentions the fact that John Cordani Jr., the judge's son, is a partner with Robinson + Cole, the firm used by the Connecticut Port Authority, and that State Attorney General William Tong introduced the resolution to confirm Cordani as a judge. The attorney general’s office is representing DEEP in the case.

Court records show that on Oct. 8, the court notified attorneys in the case that Cordani’s son was a partner at Robinson + Cole.

“The judge’s son does not appear to be involved in this matter and the judge does not know any of the attorneys who are listed on the briefs. The judge believes that he can be impartial in this matter and does not currently intend to recuse himself. However, if either party believes that the judge should recuse himself, they are directed to make that request within two weeks of the date of this order,” the notice reads.

There were no objections to the notice listed in court records.

g.smith@theday.com

Editor's Note: This story was updated to include information on a notice to attorneys regarding Judge Cordani.

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