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If he wants a deal, New London mayor should refocus State Pier anger

Sharing the opinion pages this Sunday is a guest commentary by New London Mayor Michael Passero in which he vents his frustration over his inability to reach a host community agreement with the developers preparing to transform State Pier.

His honor brings forward every grievance and aims it at every target. Well, almost every target.

He likens the Connecticut Port Authority, mandated by the legislature to manage the state facility, to a “new overlord” along the lines of the British who imposed taxation without representation and, 240 years ago, burned down New London.

Passero cries out that his city is being bullied by the Ørsted and Eversource partnership that plans to redevelop State Pier: “two huge private corporations who pay their corporate officers” — gasp! — “tens of millions of dollars annually.”

Unlike the British, however, the port authority, these corporate entities and their overpaid CEOs (aren’t they all?) are not planning on burning down the city. Rather, they are joining with the state to invest $157 million to transform what has long been an underutilized State Pier into a support facility for construction of this nation’s first large-scale offshore wind farms. It would create hundreds of good paying jobs and fuel business for many subcontractors. Offshore wind development could stretch over two decades, and the project will leave State Pier with the heavy-lift capacity it now lacks, and the state retaining ownership.

The mayor complains “a thriving bulk cargo trade … has been completely shut down” to make way for the wind-hub redevelopment. A meager cargo trade, restricted by inadequate infrastructure, is the more accurate description.

Also being displaced is DRVN Enterprises, a road-salt supplier. As noted here before, the port authority should give the company the winter to sell off its mountain of road salt. And the Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments should assist the company in finding an alternative location for next season.

But if the state, city and region want to support job creation, renewable energy and economic growth, accommodations have to be made.

What Mayor Passero is truly upset about is not the arrogant behavior of the port authority — though it is admittedly among the most tone-deaf and ham-fisted of agencies you’ll ever stumble across — or the lavish compensation of CEOs, as frustrating as that might be. No, what really grates the mayor is his fear his city is getting fleeced once again.

New London, like most municipalities in the state, is home to a disproportionate amount of real estate exempt from property taxation, including a hospital, other medical offices and institutions, colleges, government buildings, public housing — and State Pier. The state provides payments in lieu of taxation — PILOT funds — but they are a tiny fraction of the assessed values.

There is no state provision in place, and no host community agreement signed with the developers, that would substantially boost revenues to New London as the result of this massive project.

What is odd is the one target the mayor skips in his critical commentary is the one most to blame for the frustrating position in which Passero finds himself — Gov. Ned Lamont. The administration should never have signed off on the $157 million public-private deal without including fair compensation for the host city in the deal.

And having failed to do so, it is incumbent upon the Lamont administration to figure out a path that leads the state, the city and the developers to an agreement in which New London is substantially compensated. Earlier talks involving the Ørsted-Eversource partnership called for providing revenues to the city in addition to the funding covered by PILOT formulas. Passero did not see that as adequate and pointed to the potential that PILOT funding could be cut or would not ramp up with development.

The Lamont administration needs to find the means to bridge that gap. The danger in not doing so is that the formula of an angry mayor, uncooperative host city, inattentive state administration, and disquieted developers may lead to the project being abandoned altogether.

Burning it all down won’t be a win for New London anymore than it was in 1781.

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Izaskun E. Larrañeta, staff writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.


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