NEW LONDON — The Connecticut Port Authority has withdrawn its request as a sponsor for a $1.8 million U.S. Department of Transportation Maritime Administration (MARAD) grant for a Marine Highway project that would have supported the development of a Harbor Harvest, a waterborne transportation service for farmers and manufacturers in Connecticut and Long Island.
“At the time we applied, only public entities were eligible and if a private entity was engaging in these activities, they had to go through a project sponsor like a port authority and so we served in that role,” said Acting Chair David Kooris at the port authority meeting Tuesday.
Harbor Harvest has announced plans to “develop Hybrid catamarans to move farm products across Long Island Sound.” According to the company, the vessels would provide a lower-carbon, sustainable alternative to shipping goods on regional highways.
According to the company website, a catamaran would carry about twenty-eight pallets of cargo, including a refrigerated space.
At Tuesday’s port authority meeting, Acting Chair David Kooris cited a lack of documentation from either Harbor Harvest or First Harvest Navigation, Inc., to complete the grant application, despite repeated requests beginning on Oct. 31, 2019.
In April 2019, MARAD awarded $6.7 million in grants to three Marine Highway projects, including the port authority Harbor Harvest award. The program supports the “increased use of the nation’s navigable waterways in order to relieve landside congestion, provides new and efficient transportation options, and increases the productivity of the surface transportation system.”
The grant would have assisted with the development of the “Farm-to-Harbor-to-Market” service of Harbor Harvest, which is owned by Robert and Marilyn Kunkel of Norwalk.
After it made the award, MARAD requested that the port authority supply detailed documentation of the financial position and partnerships of Harbor Harvest.
“Those documents were requested by us of Harbor Harvest in October 2019. Some documents were submitted in late 2019, others were submitted in early 2020, some of which were responses to our requests, some of which were not,” said Kooris.
Completed items documented the ability of Harbor Harvest to make a proposed matching requirement of $1.56 million and pro forma financial statements including revenue projections and estimated project budget expenditures and projections.
Three items — bank statements indicating cash position, three years of audited financials in accordance with U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP), and agreements documenting the relationships between various entities that comprise the private partner and their financial partner — have not been provided, said Kooris.
At a March 17 port authority meeting, Robert Kunkel conveyed his frustration with both MARAD and the port authority. He said he had supplied the necessary paperwork and asked for a commitment from the Connecticut Port Authority that a decision would be on the port authority’s agenda in April. He said Harbor Harvest has already spent $4 million in anticipation of receiving grant monies.
“At this point in time, we have submitted our financial data, we have the availability of matching funds with dates of April 30 laying out before us. We need either a yay or nay from CPA so we can determine our next steps to recover our damages and to decide that MARAD and the Marine Highway Department and CPA are no longer interested in this environmental project — that we’re either moving forward or we’re not,” said Kunkel.
Kooris said Tuesday that Kunkel was looking for an up or down vote.
“[They] felt we were delaying, and I just want to make clear that we want to be supportive of this,” Kooris said. “The reason that we have not taken an up or down vote is to provide ample opportunity for the documents to be submitted.”
MARAD set for the port authority a deadline of the middle of September, which made the August 18 meeting the last opportunity the board had to act on the agreement, Kooris said.
“The documents were most recently requested no later than July 31 and they have not been submitted,” Kooris said. “We have been essentially holding out in the hopes that we would be able to say yes.”
Withdrawal of the application, without prejudice, was preferable to the possibility of MARAD rejecting the application, which could jeopardize future federal funding for the port authority, Kooris said.
He added that he expected pushback from Harbor Harvest about the port authority’s withdrawal of the application.
“I’m expecting they’re going to make an issue out of this. In all their communications they have repeatedly tried to put this on CPA as representative of our inability to move things forward,” said Kooris. “I can say there will be an attempt to reflect poorly on us. We have documented the back and forth. This is not meant to be a comment on the project at all. It’s just the requirements of the federal funds that are unable to be met.”
Kooris said he didn’t know why Harbor Harvest has not supplied the necessary documents.
“I think sometimes people are surprised at the hoops you have to jump through when dealing with public funds, let alone federal dollars, and it’s frustrating for people and it seems onerous, but those are the requirements that you have to go by if you want public money,” he said.
Kunkel did not return a phone call on Tuesday afternoon for this story.