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Port authority's vandalism valuation led to Kevin Blacker's felony arrest

I am not generally a big proponent of civil disobedience as a means of protest.

But I respect it as something some consider an inevitable last resort, when there seems to be no better way to call attention to a grave injustice.

Perpetrators generally accept the consequences as the cost of what they believe to be necessary and meaningful protest.

And so it was last month, when Kevin Blacker of Noank, longtime critic and thorn in the side of the Connecticut Port Authority, frustrated by the insider deal making that has closed the region's historic State Pier to traditional shipping, painted some of the directional signs outside the pier property a pale pink.

The gesture recalls the roiling protests over the taking of New London's Fort Trumbull neighborhood by eminent domain, etched into public consciousness when homeowner Susette Kelo and her little pink house became the face of the controversy.

For me, the crime, or more accurately I should say the gross injustice, that occurred in the pink sign painting at State Pier, was Blacker's arrest this week on a felony charge of first-degree criminal mischief, punishable by up to five years in jail and a $5,000 fine.

Blacker was charged with this serious crime by the State Police Eastern Connecticut Major Crime Unit, based on a complaint by the port authority claiming damage to the old and irrelevant directional signs to be $1,663 — or $163 more than the threshold of $1,500, which elevates the crime from misdemeanor to felony.

It was David Kooris, chairman of the board of the port authority, who directly made the complaint about the signs to state police, according to the arrest warrant affidavit.

Kooris reported Blacker the day after he confessed to the vandalism during a port authority board meeting and said he expected to be arrested.

First, an observation about the signs and what was painted over.

They were old-fashioned roadside highway directional signs erected by the state Department of Transportation on public rights of way.

Two small ones pointed to the "Admiral Harold E. Shear State Pier," a long-abandoned name of the facility that honored a retired Navy admiral who dedicated himself to the development of the pier as a deepwater port for commercial cargo.

It is curious that the port authority is worried about vandalism to a sign naming Shear, since the agency long ago dishonored him and stopped using his name anywhere on signage or official designations of the facility. He is probably spinning in his grave to think how they've now closed his beloved port to cargo.

I reached out to Kooris to ask how he came up with the $1,663 valuation of the signs, which also pointed to a warehouse that has been torn down and an office that is boarded up.

He said by email he assigned the task to a port authority engineering subcontractor, which measured the signs and then got a $50-per-square-foot formula from DOT for the cost of replacements. He then related the total cost himself to police.

He said in the email he had no knowledge "of the fiscal thresholds related to penalties" of the charges.

I'll let readers assess that claim. And wonder, along with me, why the replacement cost was so carefully calculated by a consultant in the first place.

Kooris also had what I would call a tortured explanation for why he took it upon himself to report the crime to police in the first place, since the signs, long ago erected by DOT, don't even belong to the port authority.

"While they may be located within city or state rights-of-way," he wrote, "given that they are all directional signage related to the facility, they are CPA's responsibility."

Really?

So you have the chairman of a scandal-plagued agency having marine engineering consultants, at who knows what cost, to determine the value of vandalized signs the authority doesn't own, which point to facilities that are closed or no longer exist, a value that happens to put the damage just over the threshold triggering a felony charge.

And then you whistle in the major crime squad, fingering a longtime critic of the agency and all of its self-dealing in jobs and lucrative contracts for friends and associates.

No wonder Blacker feels a need for civil disobedience.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

d.collins@theday.com

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