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    Sunday, February 25, 2024

    Bond commission approves $30M more for State Pier, $1.7M for Norwich soup kitchen

    The state Bond Commission on Friday approved an additional $30 million requested by the Connecticut Port Authority to finish redeveloping State Pier in New London into a staging and assembly area for offshore wind turbines.

    It was one in a host of items totaling hundreds of millions of dollars approved by the commission and included $1.7 million for improvements at Norwich’s soup kitchen.

    The additional money to the Port Authority, $23.5 million towards construction costs and $6.5 million in contingency funds, is part of the $53.7 million in additional costs announced in May that will bring funding for the project to $309 million.

    The two Republicans on the Bond Commission, Sen. Henri Martin of Bristol and State Rep. Holly Cheeseman of East Lyme, voted against the additional funds and criticized the Port Authority for its handling of the project that is still under construction on the New London waterfront.

    Cheeseman said the rising costs “reeks of incompetence” in management of the project.

    “I have been a consistent ‘no’ vote if only to send a message that these are taxpayers dollars,” Cheeseman said.

    The problems with the port authority ― ethics violations, cost overruns and investigations into payments ― “calls into question how we oversee these quasi-publics.”

    Martin called the project “a disaster from the very beginning.”

    “You promised us you would not be back here. If this was a private sector project all by itself you would not have a job and maybe some of your staff,” Martin said. “Mr. (David) Kooris, I would have fired you.”

    Port Authority Board Chairman David Kooris, on the defensive, reminded Martin he was a volunteer board member, does not run the day-to-day operation of the port authority and said initial cost estimates for the project came before his time on the board.

    Kooris, who appeared before the commission alongside the port authority’s Interim Executive Director Ulysses Hammond, explained obstructions that have hindered pile driving at State Pier led to the majority of the latest cost increases.

    Kooris said with 70% of the State Pier facility constructed and the first wind turbine components already delivered to State Pier, he did not foresee the port authority needing funds beyond the $6.5 million contingency.

    He also said the Port Authority was proud to have negotiated an increased financial contribution from Orsted and Eversource, whose “additional skin in the game,” is about $100 million or roughly one-third of the project costs.

    The partnership of Orsted and Eversource has agreed to contribute $23.7 million to cover a portion of the $47.2 million increase in construction costs.

    Norwich benefits from funding

    As it did in the state budget this year, Norwich fared well in Friday’s Bond Commission package.

    The St. Vincent de Paul Place soup kitchen and homeless service center will receive $1.7 million to continue its renovation of the former St. Joseph School at 120 Cliff St. The bond money will pay for a much-needed elevator to open the third and fourth floor to serve clients, Executive Director Jillian Corbin said.

    The money also will pay for a rear loading dock to access a new large outdoor cooler/freezer the center obtained through federal American Rescue Plan Act and Community Development Block Grant funds from the city.

    “We are so excited about this award,” Corbin said. “A special thank you to state Sen. Cathy Osten, state Representatives Derell Wilson and Kevin Ryan, Governor Ned Lamont and everyone else who supported this important project.”

    Corbin called a new elevator “a game changer” for the facility. The project will allow the center to strengthen the building’s infrastructure and expand services to struggling Norwich families. St. Vincent provides free meals, groceries, health care clinics, access to showers and clothing.

    The center also received more than $100,000 in tax credit funding through the state Neighborhood Assistance Act to replace the building’s HVAC system to bring central air conditioning to the building.

    “Now we’re officially a real cooling center with cool air,” Corbin said.

    Also in the bond package for Norwich is $500,000 for the Norwich Community Development Corp. to assist Castle Church with plans to create a public park, called Jubilee Park, on lower Broadway in front of City Hall and to make other public space improvements to the block.

    Osten called the support to the Norwich entities a regional benefit, as Norwich is the hub for human services for the region, including for the “tiny communities” around Norwich that do not provide services.

    Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz held a news conference in Norwich Friday morning to highlight both state budget funding and the Bond Commission items for Norwich. She said the combined funding will help restore historic buildings and support the social network Norwich entities provide, which Osten called “the moral and compassionate part about eastern Connecticut.”

    Other projects funded

    – The commission approved $15 million towards renovations, new construction and other improvements at state parks, including $2.725 million for utility upgrades at Rocky Neck State Park in East Lyme.

    – A $125,000 grant-in-aid to the Eastern Connecticut Chamber of Commerce to move its headquarters to downtown New London.

    – A $5 million grant-in-aid to Safe Futures for creation of the Family Justice Center and centralization of Safe Futures, which helps victims of domestic violence in Southeastern Connecticut.

    – A $500,000 grant for the Gales Ferry Fire Department towards a roof replacement project and for fire equipment purchases.

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