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Connecticut Port Authority board to vote on $157 million redevelopment plan

A projected $157 million plan to redevelop State Pier into a staging area for the offshore wind industry will be voted on by the Connecticut Port Authority at a special meeting in Hartford Tuesday.

The plan, which has been the subject of negotiations for 18 months, would entail offshore wind developers Ørsted and Eversource, known jointly as North East Offshore, or NEO, subleasing State Pier from Gateway, the current pier operator, for a minimum of 10 years to use the facility for the pre-assembly of wind turbine generators.

NEO's Revolution Wind Farm in federal waters south of Martha's Vineyard, which is expected to be operational by 2023, will supply 300 megawatts of offshore wind power to Connecticut.

David Kooris, chairman of the port authority's board, gave board members a copy of the redevelopment plan 10 days ago to give them time to review it before voting Tuesday. The vote was expected to happen last month but got pushed back due to the parties — Kooris, the state, NEO and Gateway — needing a bit more time to finalize the plan before presenting it to the board.

Negotiations were complicated by a tumultuous year for the port authority in 2019, in which questions about the authority's spending practices and operations led to state hearings and the Lamont administration stepping in to provide greater oversight.

The cost of the redevelopment was originally expected to cost $93 million, but the relocation of a large installation vessel, which will be used to transport wind turbine components, from the southern end of the pier, as originally planned, to the east end of the facility increased the cost by $44 million.

The plan also involves filling in water between the two existing piers to provide for additional space. The idea was presented at a public meeting last September when some of the details of the proposed redevelopment were unveiled. Kooris has said since then the parties have been working to incorporate public concerns raised at the meeting into a final agreement.

The port authority's board is also expected to vote on a variety of resolutions at its meeting Tuesday, including one to transfer ownership of State Pier from the state Department of Transportation to the port authority. Max Reiss, spokesman for Gov. Ned Lamont's office, said the transfer of ownership of State Pier would also have to be approved by the State Properties Review Board and the state treasurer.

Several years ago, after the port authority was established and took over the maritime functions of the state from DOT, the authority and DOT entered into a memorandum of understanding, to transfer control of State Pier from DOT to the port authority.

State lawmakers were briefed on the redevelopment Monday evening. Later on, Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano, of North Haven, and state Sen. Paul Formica, R-East Lyme, put out a statement that Tuesday's vote should be delayed to give the public and lawmakers a chance to weigh in on the plan.

"While a special meeting tomorrow morning is open to public participation, the administration has already scheduled a press conference just hours later to announce the agreement. So why pretend to consider public comment if this agreement is already baked? The process falls devastatingly short of what the public deserves," Fasano said.

Formica questioned whether ownership of State Pier should be turned over to the port authority given the past issues.

"The indiscretions of the Connecticut Port Authority are still too fresh in all of our minds to simply turn ownership of the pier over to them without assurances that new members, extensive oversight and process controls are firmly in place," Formica said. 

Senate Republicans are introducing a legislative proposal Tuesday that Formica said "reins in the actions of all Connecticut quasi-publics including the Port Authority with more transparency and oversight."

Late Monday, the office of Gov. Ned Lamont responded to Fasano and Formica's statement.

"Given the importance of this transformative investment, the Lamont administration took an appropriate and proactive role in shepherding the negotiations to this point, which involved an overhaul of the CPA itself; personnel, policies and procedures," the governor's statement read.

"It's disappointing for the Senate Republican leader, who has an appointment to the CPA board, that he has to ask for a process which has been underway for a year be delayed because he just started paying attention yesterday and needs to play catch up.

"It is a shame Republicans continue to cast doubt about the future of Connecticut's economy and its greenhouse gas reduction goals, just one week after the governor called for a more positive tone across our politics. This agreement, pending the approval of the CPA, will be historic and transformative for the southeastern Connecticut economy and for our climate future, and we hope, one day, Republicans see the benefit of such a deal."

Kevin Blacker, a frequent critic of the port authority, is planning a meeting at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Custom House on Bank Street in New London to "talk about how to force a rebid of the State Pier deal, how to leverage full disclosure and accountability from the CT Port Authority, and how State Pier and the Thames should be set up in an honest fashion that will benefit Southeastern Connecticut and the State the most." The public is invited.

j.bergman@theday.com

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