HARTFORD – As the cost to redevelop the New London State Pier continues to escalate, lawmakers are being asked to approve another $20 million in bonding to fund the project – which now carries a price tag of $255.5 million.
Hailed in 2019 as a $93 million project to redevelop the pier into a hub for offshore wind construction – with the offshore wind partnership of Eversource and Ørsted paying $57.5 million of the cost – the state’s investment now stands at $160.5 million, and the State Bond Commission will decide Thursday whether to approve another $20 million in funding.
The cost of the project has increased repeatedly since it was first announced in 2019 – jumping to $157 million after a redesign to accommodate the Cross Sound Ferry, then to $235.5 million as officials said the design was completed. The cost of the project was most recently estimated in March at about $250 million – an increase blamed on permitting delays that sped up the construction timeline.
Asked what caused the increase to $255.5 million, and if that was the guaranteed maximum price of the project, Connecticut Port Authority spokesman Andrew Lavigne said the Authority’s board would be discussing the price at its meeting at noon on Tuesday.
State Rep. Holly Cheeseman, R-East Lyme, the lone lawmaker of the Bond Commission who represents a part of southeastern Connecticut, said she was concerned that the price continued to increase after she was assured there would be no need for additional funding.
When the Bond Commission approved an additional $55 million for the project last April, Cheeseman pushed then-Office of Policy and Management Deputy Secretary Kosta Diamantis to say that $235.5 million was the “actual figure” for the project – which Cheeseman said she understood to mean the cost would not go any higher.
Cheeseman said she has not heard an explanation behind this request for $20 million in additional funding, and said she was interested to hear the reasoning from Gov. Ned Lamont and his staff at the Bond Commission meeting on Thursday.
“I find this very worrying,” Cheeseman said. “I understand there are supply chain problems, but to receive repeated assurances that there will be no need for additional funds, and to have that not be the case, I don’t think it shows good stewardship, good oversight.”
Cheeseman said she understood that Eversource and Ørsted might not want to contribute more than they originally agreed to, but she said that could have been a conversation to have considering the companies have been “fairly flexible” in working with the Port Authority on the project.
She noted that the companies did not pull back any of their contribution to the project, even though they could have withdrawn their support as permits were delayed last year.
But she said the project seemed to be an “ideal use” for federal infrastructure funding, and that U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm’s visit to the State Pier on Friday highlighted the commitment of President Joe Biden’s administration to offshore wind.
“I know there are very strict guidelines from the Treasury on what the infrastructure funding can be used for,” Cheeseman said. “On the other hand, I would have thought [Granholm’s visit] was an excellent argument for demonstrating the federal government’s commitment to this kind of project, and perhaps a favorable view of using infrastructure money for just that purpose.”
Lavigne said the Port Authority applied for federal funds for the project in 2020 when Donald Trump was president, and was denied. He said that the current administration is more supportive of offshore wind, so the project might be more competitive for federal funding now, but the authority can’t wait for federal funding if State Pier is to be ready as a staging area for Eversource and Ørsted’s South Fork Wind Project in March 2023.
Editor’s Note: A follow up to this story can be found here