NEW LONDON — A $3 million promise from an offshore wind company to the City of New London to support the city’s maritime infrastructure for commercial fishermen could become a source of tension between the mayor’s office and the Connecticut Port Authority.
Originally promised by Deepwater Wind, which was purchased by the Danish wind giant Ørsted in October 2018, the $3 million grant was designated for the Port of New London to improve marine facilities used by the commercial fishing industry. Ørsted has promised to honor Deepwater Wind commitments.
At Tuesday’s port authority meeting, Acting Chair David Kooris, said he wanted the board to be aware of the promised money as a potential funding source for building docks in a new site for the commercial fishermen who will be displaced from State Pier because of the future offshore wind operation, a joint venture of Ørsted and Eversource.
The port authority approved an amendment Tuesday to its contract with AECOM for permitting and design. The new scope included funding an assessment of areas where docks can be built to accommodate the fishermen who are being displaced from State Pier.
“When that item was discussed at the Finance Committee meeting, there was a question about the funding of construction and I was surprised to learn that the committee wasn’t aware of this commitment,” Kooris wrote in an email on Tuesday afternoon. “Given how much press there has been on this issue, the committee agreed that it was relevant for me to mention it at the full board meeting as well since this existing funding commitment for this type of purpose had not yet made it into the public discourse.”
Mayor Mike Passero said he had listened to the port authority meeting and disagreed with the authority’s premise.
“What Kooris said today in the meeting is not accurate and they should not be using the money that was pledged to the city by Deepwater Wind. Ørsted said they would honor all of Deepwater Wind’s commitments and this is a Deepwater Wind commitment. It’s completely inappropriate for the state port authority to use that money to solve their problem relocating [the fishermen],” said Passero. “The money was not given to the Connecticut Port Authority. It was pledged to the City of New London in exchange for the city’s support of Deepwater Wind’s initial power purchase proposal to PURA. It was given in consideration for the city’s support for what they eventually won — 200 megawatts — and part of that was the promise to provide the city with $3 million specifically to invest in the commercial fishing site down at Fort Trumbull, which is leased to a fishing company.”
Passero said the money was promised to the city to improve its dock property that is leased longterm to a commercial fishing operation, with no strings attached and no state involvement.
“It might have been written more broadly in their bid, but it was very specifically — and the fishermen will tell you the same thing that I’m telling you — that the money was to be paid to the city and the city was to use that to make improvements on the leasehold,” he said.
When Deepwater pledged the money, the plan at State Pier was different from what it is today, Passero said.
“At the time the fishermen at the State Pier were okay. There was not going to be any disruption of any existing uses of the State Pier under the Deepwater Wind plan. So now they’re developing this other super-deluxe plan where they have to relocate other water dependent uses. Well, that money’s not available for them to solve their problem there. That was money promised to the City of New London,” Passero said.
In an email Tuesday afternoon, Kooris clarified that the port authority will not be able to designate where the funding from Ørsted goes. He wrote that the Department of Economic Community Development and Ørsted are working through the mechanics of how this and other funding commitments are allocated and monitored as DECD is the state’s responsible party to ensure concurrence with the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority approvals.
“It is also my understanding from my conversations with the mayor that he intends to use the funds at the city pier on the north end of Fort Trumbull, but I don’t believe that the location is specified in the proposal,” Kooris wrote. “To be crystal clear, in no scenario does the $3 million go to State Pier.”
However, Kooris said that it might make sense to dovetail the needs of the State Pier fishermen with the $3 million grant.
“If there is going to be improvements in the harbor for commercial fishing, why shouldn’t it accommodate these boats?” he asked.
The fishermen on State Pier were given a 90-day extension, to July 31, to vacate the facility, but it was unclear whether that order would be enforced.
DRVN Enterprises, which imports and stores salt at State Pier, has also been given notice it must move.
Board member John Johnson also asked whether it was the authority’s responsibility to move DRVN off site.
“Our position is that it is not,” said Kooris.