Port Authority to help shape future at New London, state's other deepwater ports

Before the housing market crashed in 2008, the main commodity coming into New London's State Pier facility was lumber.

From 2009 to 2014, there was no lumber market at State Pier, according to officials at Logistec, port operator at the facility for about 17 years.

But Logistec began importing lumber from Europe again in 2014 for the housing market and home renovations. 

The company is even in talks about importing lumber from Canada.

The return of lumber is one of the signs that, officials say, the port is bouncing back following the recession.

"We are encouraged by the resurgence of that commodity and other new cargoes," Frank Vannelli, senior vice president for Commercial & Business Development at Logistec Stevedoring Inc., said by email.

One of those new cargoes is salt, which comes from Egypt and Chile. 

In 2014, the company handled two salt-carrying vessels, and is now in talks with DRVN Enterprises of Wethersfield about bringing in three salt vessels this year, which would mean about 100,000 tons of salt compared to the 55,000 tons brought in last year, Vannelli said.

The State Pier facility is situated 3 miles upstream from the mouth of the Thames River, not far from the Gold Star Bridge.

The main lease at State Pier is with Logistec serving as terminal operator for the facility, aside from a small part of the pier that is leased to the Thames River Seafood Co-op.

The periods of the two leases coincide, with both due to expire Jan. 31, 2016.

Logistec handles about 24 vessels a year in New London, most of them carrying steel from Europe, primarily Belgium and Germany, and also Asia.

"Can we grow that? Certainly," Vannelli said.

As Tim Sullivan, deputy director of the Department of Economic and Community Development, which was instrumental in formation of the Connecticut Port Authority, put it "The options are pretty broad for what more could be coming in."

The port authority came into existence in July, and will serve as the primary marketer and driver of economic growth around the state's three deepwater ports: New London, Bridgeport and New Haven, all of which have significant untapped potential according to state officials and stakeholders.

Officials say the port authority will also be in charge of boosting the state's $5 billion maritime industry.

"What hasn't been focused on is someone at state level with an economic development toolkit focusing on State Pier, but also ports throughout the state, to attract more business, more companies to both import and export out of facilities," Sullivan said.

New London's deepwater port is well suited to bringing in vessels in the 15,000- to 20,000-metric ton range, and general cargo like steel and lumber — products that can be loosely loaded.

Logistec is looking to market in the 300,000 to 500,000 metric ton range, capacitywise, according to Vannelli, who said that last year, the company did about 250,000 metric tons.

Recently, State Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, appointed Scott Bates of Stonington to the port authority board of directors. Bates will serve as one of 15 board members.

In an email, Bates said that as a board member he's interested in linking the port communities with the rest of the state. 

"Take New London for example," he said. "New London should be a dynamic regional economic hub with its port serving as our primary gateway to the world. I hope people from towns all over eastern Connecticut begin to see New London and its port as central to their economic future."

He said the port authority will also need to focus on the needs of the smaller ports, which have diverse needs and large impact.

Bates listed "world class infrastructure" and "a skilled and ready workforce" as "the central factors in assuring the long term success of Connecticut's ports and to fulfilling our mission."

Since 1997, the state has spent $45 million, or $45,252,993 to be precise, on infrastructure improvements at State Pier, according to a document detailing project costs at the pier provided by Joe Salvatore, dredge project coordinator/project management for the state Department of Transportation.

The state gets about $450,000 a year on average from State Pier. The funding currently goes to DOT, which is getting out of the maritime business.

The plan is for the port authority to take over as landlord at State Pier. Currently DOT has that role.

j.bergman@theday.com

Twitter: @JuliaSBergman

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