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All's not well with the new salt mountain at State Pier

When I asked state environmental regulators last week about alarm bells ringing around town over the potential risks of the big new mountain of road salt the Connecticut Port Authority has put on one of its piers in New London Harbor, they said they would get back to me.

It's a good thing no storms packing wind and rain are in the forecast, since the salt looks precariously close to the water.

A spokesman for the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, which actually has its own seat on the port authority board, said in an email Monday someone would be out this week to evaluate the new waterfront salt mountain and determine whether it complies with stormwater permits.

Maybe those folks I've heard from, who have been wringing their hands, concerned that a lot of that salt may wash or blow into the river, have nothing to worry about. Maybe it would just be more salt into salt water.

To me, the salt mountain is, more ominously, a striking new symbol of all that went wrong with agreements negotiated by the corrupt quasi-public agency, which operated so long without accounting controls and made so many insider deals with friends and the politically connected.

The mountain also could be a warning sign for anti-trust allegations that could be raised in lawsuits against the port authority.

Indeed, the owner of the salt, Steven Farrelly and his DRVN Enterprises, strikes me as a very prominent victim of the port authority's dealings, having been evicted from State Pier by Gateway Terminal, the new port operator put in place by the port authority.

Gateway runs its own big salt business out of its competing port in New Haven.

Eastern Connecticut towns began paying considerably less money for salt once DRVN started operating out of New London. Those towns can now expect to pay more again, with DRVN shut down by its competitor.

Farrelly has hired a lawyer who specializes in anti-trust law, Robert Langer of Wiggin and Dana, who has identified himself in recent port authority board meetings as representing DRVN.

Farrelly was originally evicted and ordered out earlier this summer, but he got a reprieve, now allowed to stay until the end of the year, since he hired the lawyer.

The new mountain was created when the port authority ordered Farrelly to move the salt, which had been stored on higher ground, to the low-lying pier, so that soil testing on the higher ground could begin, to make way for the $157 million wind turbine assembly terminal Gov. Ned Lamont and the port authority have promised to Eversource and its partner, Danish wind giant Ørsted.

I reached out to attorney Langer to ask him about his client's plans, now that Gateway has shut New London to traditional port traffic, with shipping diverted to the competing port it owns in New Haven.

He declined to comment. I don't blame him for not wanting to share legal strategy, as the end-of-the-year eviction of his client looms.

The New London port is closed, even though not a single one of the many state and federal permits needed to convert it for wind turbine assembly has been granted, and no construction is underway.

Other victims of the port competition busting include the union New London longshoremen, who were fired by Gateway, which runs a non-union port in New Haven, and fishermen who have been given only limited extensions to their own evictions.

Logistec, the Canadian company that operates some 34 North American ports, lost out to competition-killing Gateway, even though its bid, as requested in the bidding specifications, promised to operate New London as both a traditional port and a wind turbine assembly facility.

But neither Scott Bates, the deputy secretary of the state who was then port authority chairman, nor the agency's executive director showed up for the interview with Logistic executives on the company's bid. They didn't get the courtesy of an interview, after running the port for 20 years.

The fix was in, it seems, to give the port to a competitor who didn't even follow the bid rules for proposing a dual-use port.

An anti-trust lawsuit might help illuminate how we got here, with a mountain of salt surrounded by water.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

d.collins@theday.com

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