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Lamont's scandal-ridden port authority is still on fire

There has been talk in the legislature for some time about reforming the state's system of quasi-public agencies, a notion that gained traction with the most recent of the quasi-scandals, those unfolding at the Connecticut Port Authority.

Lawmakers should note, though, that the port authority is in no way the kind of policymaking hybrid, mixing private entrepreneurship with public accountability, that the quasis were envisioned to be.

It has instead been quite literally hijacked by Gov. Ned Lamont. He has taken full command, most recently using his appointment power to install authority Chairman David Kooris, no longer a state employee, as his puppet-in-chief at the quasi, once again ignoring his promise, made in front of television cameras, to appoint New London's mayor to the authority board.

Lamont could fill one of the vacancies on the stagnant board with the New London mayor tomorrow, but he stubbornly won't honor his word.

Lamont did not produce any emails between his office and Kooris after I made a Freedom of Information request for them last year. I subsequently filed a complaint with the state Freedom of Information Commission, and it will surely eventually find the governor in violation of public disclosure laws, as it has for so much information the port authority has illegally withheld from the public.

Of course the governor doesn't want us to read any of those emails anytime soon and learn how miserably his $157 million sweet deal to rebuild the pier for the rich utilities Eversource and Ørsted is progressing.

It is already woefully behind schedule, which apparently no one wants to talk about.

What is sure to be a contentious public hearing, for the monumental environmental ask of filling in 7 acres of a navigable channel between the two piers, has yet to unfold.

It looks like one of the principal objectors at those hearings will be the city itself, which Lamont has not only excluded from the board but royally snookered by concluding the deal with the utilities, allowing them to conduct profitable commercial enterprise on the pier with no allowance for the equivalent of municipal property taxes.

New London plans to leverage its own legal claim regarding the site, which originally was taken in part from the city by the state and put into a municipal development plan that was supposed to guide the creation of taxpaying enterprises there.

Lamont is now the villain. A previous governor, a Republican, purchased the houses in the pier neighborhood to make way for port-related development that would create more tax revenue for the city than the existing houses. This Democrat governor has done nothing to help the city capture any revenue from the significant commercial development now proposed there.

Ørsted announced last year that all of its offshore wind projects are at least a year behind schedule because of federal permit problems.

The utility has been playing states against one another in the offshore wind game, and I think you might even be able to find a Vegas bookie who would offer good odds that no wind turbine development will ever take place in New London.

That brings us to a pending review by the State Contracting Standards Board, which is looking at one of the more monumental giveaways in the port authority scandals: the awarding of the port of New London to its principal competitor, the politically connected private owner of the port of New Haven.

Scott Bates, the former port authority chairman who resigned from the agency in disgrace but still oversees elections as the deputy secretary of the state, presided over the awarding of that contract to Gateway Terminals of New Haven, ignoring the authority's own clear rules of the bidding process that said the winning proposal should keep the port of New London open to traditional shipping.

Gateway shut down New London as soon as it could, diverting traffic to its own port, the same way McDonald's would shut down Burger King if it could. Dozens of jobs have been lost here with no clear schedule of when, if ever, wind turbine assembly will begin.

The good news, as we start a new year, is that local Democratic legislators seem to be finally paying attention and are drafting a bill that would bring new oversight to the port authority. I fear it won't be enough.

Meanwhile, Bates now has a personal website, complete with logo, promoting his work developing the pier.

I would read it all with at least a grain of salt, but, given all the bragging, you actually may need the entire mountain of salt at State Pier owned by the eastern Connecticut salt company that Bates put in extreme jeopardy when he organized the awarding of the state facility to another port operator with its own competing salt business.

The scandals of the port authority are not going to subside in 2021, unless the underlying corruption is addressed.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

d.collins@theday.com

Editor's Note: There is a $157 million agreement to transform State Pier into an offshore wind facility. The dollar amount was incorrect in an earlier version.

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