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Connecticut Port Authority obtains final permit for State Pier work

New London — The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers this week issued a key federal permit authorizing long-awaited work to commence at State Pier in New London.

The permit, dated Dec. 16, allows for demolition of portions of the existing pier, dredging, installation of bulkheads and filling in 7.4 acres between the two piers to create a new Central Wharf area.

The permit is the final needed approval for the Connecticut Port Authority to start a portion of the work needed to transform State Pier into an offshore wind hub. The port authority's board of directors has authorized the funding for the upcoming work, which is being managed by the construction and engineering firm Kiewitt.

The state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection issued a state permit for the same work in August. That state decision withstood a court appeal by former State Pier tenant DRVN Enterprises. Other permits have allowed work on the ongoing projects related to the State Pier upgrades.

Andrew Lavigne, manager of business development and special projects for the Connecticut Port Authority, said there will be an update on the project discussed at Tuesday’s regular meeting of the authority’s board of directors.

Offshore wind partners Ørsted and Eversource have partnered with the state to fund the $235 million overhaul of State Pier as a staging area for several planned offshore wind farms along the East Coast. Ørsted has said the project is projected to produce 460 construction jobs and 100 offshore wind-related jobs and provide a boost to the local economy.

Critics of the project have said that most of the jobs are temporary and the lease of the pier by the offshore wind industry will serve to block traditional cargo vessels and a diversity of economic opportunities there.

Ørsted and Eversource, in a joint statement, said they “are proud to be Connecticut’s partner in addressing climate change, supporting economic development, and creating jobs through offshore wind and the redevelopment of State Pier.”

“We appreciate the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ thorough review of the Connecticut Port Authority’s permit application and congratulate the CPA on this significant milestone,” the statement reads. “With the receipt of the Army Corps permits, State Pier has cleared the last major remaining regulatory hurdle, and construction of the full project scope can now proceed.”

The federal permit comes with a set of conditions. The Connecticut Port Authority must conduct a formal Navigation Safety Risk Assessment that takes into consideration Navy vessels, ferry traffic, operations at Electric Boat and commercial and recreational vessels in the Thames River.

In addition to the anticipated increase in activity at State Pier, the facility will host a $500 million, 472-foot-long wind turbine installation vessel named Charybdis. The ship is expected to use State Pier to transport and install turbines in conjunction with Eversource’s offshore wind projects in Rhode Island and New York. Discussion on navigation risks was discussed at a public hearing held by DEEP.

No work is to be performed from Feb. 1 through May 31 to protect fish habitats, according to conditions outlined in the permit.

The Connecticut Port Authority is also to purchase 3.7 credits from the Connecticut In-Lieu Fee program, a compensatory mitigation measure established by the Connecticut Audubon Society for the preservation and restoration of wetland and watercourse resources. That will cost $1.74 million and is among a number of other expenses anticipated by the port authority.

State Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, while an advocate for offshore wind, said she remains skeptical of the cost of the project. The planned renovations at State Pier initially were estimated to be $93 million and have risen several times over the past several years.

“I’m worried about the cost of the project increasing," she said. "That would be my most serious concern. We have seen cost increase over cost increase on this project.”

The state legislature passed a bill earlier this year that aims to provide more oversight of the port authority. The quasi-public agency has come under scrutiny in the past for mismanagement and lack of financial and personnel policies and procedures. Port authority officials have said they enacted a series of checks and balances to provide for better transparency and have been under the management of the state Office of Policy and Management and Department of Administrative Services.

But Osten said concerns remain about the authority’s ability to manage a project of this scope, especially in light of delays that have occurred. The Connecticut Port Authority had missed several deadlines with Ørsted/Eversource in obtaining the federal permit starting in August. Both sides, however, have remained optimistic about the project.

New London Mayor Michael Passero, initially a critic of the project because of the lack of compensation by the state to New London, secured a host community agreement with Ørsted/Eversource in February. The city can expect yearly payments of at least $750,000 over a seven-year period, with provisions for more, as part of that agreement if the project moves forward as planned.

On news of the permit, Passero said the city is happy to be a participant as the project moves forward. The city secured a seat on the port authority’s board of directors in legislation passed earlier this year.

“The city is just very pleased that this last piece has fallen into place and the project can now move to full scope," he said. "It’s a great Christmas present.”

g.smith@theday.com

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