Using new powers granted by Connecticut lawmakers, the State Contract Standards Board will ask the Connecticut Port Authority for unredacted copies of contracts related to its controversial redevelopment of the New London State Pier into a hub for offshore wind energy.
Contract Standards Board Executive Director David Guay said at a meeting on Friday that his agency intends to request contracts, memoranda of understanding, and requests for proposals relating to the redevelopment, including an unredacted copy of the agreement with Gateway New London to operate the pier.
Board member Lauren Gauthier said the Standards Board intends to request communications related to the project, in an effort to establish a timeline of events.
Board Chair Larry Fox explained that the Standards Board would focus for now on State Pier, given concerns about the project that drove lawmakers to grant the board investigatory powers last session. The port authority is the only quasi-public agency that the Standards Board has the power to investigate.
“Our intention is to really understand what’s going on with procurement down at State Pier, including understanding in a much deeper way just how proactive the support is from [the Office of Policy and Management or Department of Administrative Services] – whether they’re actively involved in procurement, or whether they’re just advising on request, or something in between,” he said.
Fox said the intention of a working group within the board was to have a report ready for lawmakers by the end of the year, but that if they found some evidence of wrongdoing along the way, they wouldn’t hesitate to take quicker action on specific issues.
With the board’s staff still limited to Guay and an intern, after funding to add staff was reportedly pulled by Gov. Ned Lamont from the state budget, the responsibility falls mainly on the volunteer members who will work as quickly as they can, Fox said.
“I’m hoping, and assuming, frankly, that we’re going to have the cooperation of the Port Authority on this,” Fox said.
The board also sent information it gathered to the Office of the Attorney General about “suspected collusion” on a public relations contract the Port Authority signed with Dealy Mahler in 2017. Then-Port Authority Chair Scott Bates’ ties to the firm were the subject of a series of columns by Day columnist David Collins in 2019.
The authority sent a timeline outlining the suspected collusion based on documents that were made public in response to a Freedom of Information request by Kevin Blacker.
The timeline highlights how the Port Authority’s then-Executive Director Evan Matthews discussed the request for proposals with Dealy Mahler President Loren Mahler – who had previously worked with Bates – before the RFP was issued.
The assembled documents also outline how Bates discussed a plan with Matthews for the Port Authority to split its public relations contract, before later calling together an ad-hoc committee to review the two responses to the RFP, stating in that email, “There are two takers, and I think the choice will be fairly clear.”
The Attorney General’s Office was already investigating the Port Authority over a $523,000 ‘success fee’ it paid to a contractor hired partly to find an operator for State Pier. A spokesperson for the Attorney General confirmed to CT Examiner that the investigation is continuing, and declined to comment further on an active investigation.
Guay said that the Attorney General’s Office would not discuss the ongoing investigation, but did say they were already aware of the publicly-available information the board provided about the Dealy Mahler contract.
The State Contract Standards Board’s investigation comes as part of the wave of scrutiny by state lawmakers into the quasi-public Connecticut Port Authority, which picked up steam again in April when the State Bond Commission approved another $55 million in state funding for the State Pier project, as the cost estimates for the project rose from an early estimate of $93 million to the current estimate of $235.5 million.
The authority is still waiting on a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the project has raised concerns that costs would exceed that higher estimate, or that private partners Eversource and Ørsted might take advantage of a clause in their contract allowing them to claw back whatever has not been spent of $55 million they contributed, because the Army Corps permit was not received by Aug. 31.
State Rep. Holly Cheeseman, R-East Lyme, who is a member of the State Bond Commission, said she was assured that Eversource and Ørsted were committed to the project and would not be pulling any funds from the project – a commitment that the joint venture has also expressed to CT Examiner.
But Cheeseman said she was concerned about potential cost overruns given the delayed permit. She said she would be “extraordinarily disturbed” if the authority ended up requesting more state funds for the project, and would need “incredible reassurance” before voting to approve any more money.
“However admirable the goal is of providing a 21st century facility for offshore wind and future heavy cargo, this process has been rife with things that put a bad taste in my mouth,” Cheeseman said.
The Army Corps told CT Examiner that they were waiting on final comments on the permit from the National Marine Fisheries Service and EPA, and were also coordinating internally. The Port Authority completed the submission of its application on Oct. 20, 2020.
Army Corps Senior Project Manager Diane Ray told CT Examiner the length of the review was “commensurate with the scope of the proposal.”
Editor’s note: This story has been corrected to reflect requests by the board for documents that have not yet been made, and regarding the ability of the Contract Standards Board to investigate quasi-publics.