New London Harbor (Credit: CT Examiner/Stroud)

Legislators Offer Bills Aimed Connecticut Port Authority

HARTFORD — Financial transparency, board representation and a full accounting of all State Pier contracts and negotiations are among the demands of one bill taking a hard look at Connecticut Port Authority. The bill includes an “or else” if these tasks cannot be accomplished by asking the commissioner of the state Department of Transportation to explain how to return the duties of the authority to their original home at the department.

“I signed on to that bill as a sort of a shot across the bow that the state really needs to look at this closely, I don’t think that there was any chance that they will actually roll it back in [to the DOT] but you know there have been issues there,” said State Sen. Norm Needleman, D-Essex, a co-sponsor of the bill and a member of the Transportation Committee. “A lot of them are explainable, some of them are less explainable and I think that we need a serious accounting of what’s been going on with some of the contracts that were issued.”

State Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, one of the co-sponsors of the bill and a member of the Transportation Committee, said components of the bill will ensure the City of New London receives payment in lieu of taxes and that small ports and host communities, specifically the Mayor of New London, are represented on the board of the port authority. 

“And we want to make sure that RFP’s are being followed, that contracts are being honored. We want to make sure that the tenants [of State Pier] have a sense that if we’re not going to allow them to stay at the port that they have a landing space that’s good for their businesses,” she said. 

Also included are requirements for an analysis of jobs created and jobs lost at State Pier and quarterly reports covering the status of “proposals, contracts, port upgrades and negotiations with current tenants.” 

“We do have a number of things that we want to take care of but ultimately if we can’t resolve the issue, and they can’t seem to get things together then, we’re going to recommend that it be returned to DOT, so we’re asking DOT what are the steps to do that.” 

Other co-sponsors of the bill include State Rep. Christine Conley, D-Groton, State Rep. Joe de la Cruz, D-Groton and State Rep. Anthony Nolan, D-New London. 

Osten and Needleman said the bill also points to a lack of oversight of the state’s quasi-public agencies. Osten and Conley have proposed a bill that would establish requirements for a new quasi-public agency.  

Other bills that scrutinize the port authority include a proposal by State Sen. Heather Somers, R-Groton, and State Rep. Devin Carney, R-Old Saybrook, to place the Connecticut Pilot Commission within the Department of Transportation for administrative purposes only and that the salary of the department employee assigned to the port authority be paid by the DOT. 

Somers’ and Carney’s bill overlaps with the Osten (et al.) bill in appointing new members to the port authority board and requiring a plan for transparent and equitable distribution of Small Harbor Improvement Projects Program (SHIPP) grants. 

“The small ports a lot of times get kind of lost in the mix with all of this stuff because all the focus is on three large ports, so to have somebody advocating for them as well … just to have it in the statute so that when there are future appointments that they have to follow that guideline,” said Carney. 

Overall, there will be a conversation about the port authority and the Department of Transportation and “who was better equipped to run it, to be perfectly honest,” said Carney.

As further reinforcement, State Sen. Paul Formica, R-East Lyme, has introduced a bill to add the Mayor of New London to the port authority board. Nolan has introduced a similar bill. In addition, Formica introduced a bill to reimburse New London for losses on the nontaxable property at State Pier. 

In addition, the Transportation Committee has proposed that the port authority board be required to submit an annual report summarizing its activities “and recommendations for legislation to promote the authority’s purpose.” 

The Transportation Committee will hold a virtual public hearing on these bills as well as others on Feb. 19 at 10 a.m.

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