State Senate Passes Bill to Reform Connecticut’s Port Authority

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A bill meant to add transparency to the embattled Connecticut Port Authority passed the Connecticut Senate on Wednesday with the vocal support of southeastern Connecticut lawmakers.

The bill – proposed by area lawmakers after several years of high profile issues tied to the quasi-public agency established in 2014 to manage the state’s ports – passed the Senate 34-0 on Wednesday. It still needs approval from the House.

Along with giving the chief elected official of the three cities that host deep water ports in Connecticut a seat on the Port Authority Board of Directors, the bill would require the Port Authority to submit an annual report to the Department of Administrative Services, Office of Policy and Management, and legislative Transportation Committee on the status of the redevelopment of the New London State Pier, pending and current contracts, and small port projects.

State Sen. Heather Somers, R-Groton, said she was hopeful that new Port Authority Executive Director John Henshaw and Board of Directors Chair David Kooris would turn a “new page” for the port authority, but said the transparency and accountability the bill would provide are needed. She said she hoped the legislation would validate that lawmakers made the right decision in keeping the authority.

State Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, said that eastern Connecticut lawmakers impressed upon Transportation Committee Chair Will Haskell, D-Westport, the importance of transparency. Osten said the region’s lawmakers continue to believe that the offshore wind project at State Pier is important, but she underscored that it’s critical the money is spent on expanding jobs in the region.

“We want to make sure that we provide the ability for the Port Authority to be as successful as we dreamed it would be,” Osten said. “We want to make sure that we’re supporting the city of New London, and the surrounding towns and all towns associated with deepwater ports or small ports.”

State Sen. Paul Formica, R-East Lyme, who has been critical of the Port Authority amid rising cost estimates for the State Pier, said the bill gives the Port Authority and the state the opportunity to move forward from its past “misdeeds.”

“I think that the opportunities for this emerging industry of offshore wind gives us many economic opportunities – not only for the great ports in New London and Bridgeport – but for properties that go north from New London up toward Norwich,” Formica said. “I think we should take advantage of the rail line, we should take advantage of the opportunity that the river gets us, so that hopefully soon we will have manufacturers and assembly plants providing support to this new and emerging industry along that corridor.”

Formica also said that a provision to increase payments from 45 percent to 100 percent in lieu of taxes to New London for Port Authority property in the city was still included in the proposed budget as of Wednesday night.

Correction: This article incorrectly stated that the bill the Senate passed would give the State Contract Standards Board authority to review contracts from the Connecticut Port Authority. That provision was removed by amendment before the bill passed.