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    Saturday, April 20, 2024

    Port authority board members push back on Lamont’s merger proposal

    A part of a tower is hoisted by two cranes during a news conference at New London State Pier regarding the first shipment of wind turbine blades and materials to be shipped out on Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2023. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    New London ― A bill proposed this month by Gov. Ned Lamont would rename the Connecticut Port Authority and essentially absorb the group into the state’s airport authority.

    The bill calls for identifying the port authority as the “Connecticut Maritime Authority” and making it a subsidiary of the airport group, according to a copy of the act provided to The Day on Tuesday.

    The prospect of a consolidation between the two quasi-public agencies was first raised in September and received lukewarm receptions from both groups’ boards of directors.

    The bill language characterizes the change in the port authority’s title and function as a succession.

    Under the proposed new management system, the airport authority’s board would also serve as the new maritime authority’s board of directors. The airport authority’s executive director would also serve as chief administrative officer for the new maritime group.

    The CAA, formed in 2011, is responsible for overseeing operations at Bradley International Airport and the state’s five general aviation airports: Danielson, Groton-New London, Hartford-Brainard, Waterbury-Oxford and Windham.

    The Connecticut Port Authority was created in 2014 to manage ports previously under the management of the state Department of Transportation. The port authority is overseeing a $300 million upgrade aimed at transforming its State Pier terminal into an offshore wind component staging and assembly site.

    Under Lamont’s proposal, the “assets, revenues and resources” of the maritime authority – along with any liabilities, financial losses or expenses — would remain separate from the airport group, though the two groups would share staff and other administrative resources.

    During a port authority board of directors meeting on Tuesday in a conference room at Fort Trumbull State Park, several members vehemently spoke out against the proposal.

    “Maybe I’m short-sighted, but I don’t see the benefit,” board Vice-Chairman Grant Westerson said, adding the proposed change ran the risk of diluting his group’s core mission of marketing and coordinating the development of the state’s ports and maritime economy.

    Board Chairman David Kooris said the port authority has always been challenged by its small size as the CAA’s approximately 160 direct employees far outnumber the port authority's handful of paid staff members.

    He said the General Assembly’s Transportation Committee will likely hold a public hearing on the governor’s bill by March 15 with details on the proposal to be “fleshed out” in the coming weeks.

    Kooris said the state legislature's shorted session means the proposal would need to be acted on by May 8. He also urged fellow board members to brainstorm ways to “tweak” the current port authority system in case Lamont’s bill fizzles.

    “I’m totally opposed to a merger,” member John Johnson said. “We’ve done a fabulous job with this leadership and the State Pier. The future is all in front of us and it’s rosy.”

    Editor’s note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the Connecticut Port Authority’s membership would be reduced under the proposed merger plan.

    j.penney@theday.com

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