HARTFORD – Before the State Bond Commission approved another $20 million in funding for the New London State Pier redevelopment, Connecticut Port Authority Chair David Kooris said it would be the last time they would be asking the state for money for the project.
“This is the final tranche of funding,” Kooris told the commission on Thursday morning.
The commission approved another $20 million in bond funds for the project, bringing its total funding up to $255.5 million, including $180.5 million in state money.
Two members of the commission voted against the additional funds – State Rep. Holly Cheeseman, R-East Lyme, and State Sen. Henri Martin, R-Bristol – citing concerns with how the project has ballooned from an initial cost estimate of $93 million in 2019, to what the Port Authority now says will cost about $250 million.
Kooris said at a Port Authority Board meeting on Tuesday that the additional $5 million included in the bonding request is an “owner’s contingency,” which will add to the $7 million still remaining from the $11 million contingency built into earlier rounds of funding.
Kooris said the money will allow the authority to manage any unforeseen costs in the next nine months as they race to complete the project in time for Eversource and Ørsted to use it for the construction of their South Fork Wind project in March 2023.
“We have contracts for the entirety of the work,” Kooris said. “We have a remaining contingency within the project, and a modest, additional one that we’re asking for today that is designed to cover unforeseen conditions, which we do not know about today.”
Cheeseman questioned why there was not any federal infrastructure money being used towards the State Pier redevelopment, considering it aligns with President Joe Biden’s goals for accelerating offshore wind development.
Kooris said the authority had hoped the federal government would provide some funding for the project, and had applied for funding under the administration of former President Donald Trump, but did not receive it. Under the Biden administration, Kooris told commission members, the available funding opportunities had not lined up with the condensed timeline for the authority to get the port ready for South Fork.
“The timing of that availability is just opening up now, and it’s too late for us,” Kooris said.
Martin asked why Eversource and Ørsted weren’t asked to increase their contribution to the project when costs started to escalate. Kooris said there wasn’t any provision in the agreement with the companies that their investment had to remain a 50-50 split with the state.
“They had capped their commitment that they were willing to invest in a facility that they would not own,” Kooris said.
Kooris said there have been calls to improve the pier with deeper berths, additional storage, and more heavy-lift capacity going back decades, well before it was envisioned as a site for offshore wind staging. Those plans were waiting for a moment like Connecticut is in now, where private companies are willing to invest tens of millions of dollars to defray some of the public costs of that redevelopment, he said.
Gov. Ned Lamont said the state is going after “every dime” of infrastructure money that it can, but that given the fixed amount of federal funding the state would receive, any additional amount spent on State Pier meant less to spend on other priorities.
“Maybe I’m mad as hell that this is going from $150 [million] to $250 [million],” Lamont said. “But I do think about the nature of this public-private investment in New London, and what this could mean for this round of wind power, and the next five rounds that come after it, and the possibility that southeast Connecticut can be a major hub for what we think is an important new industry going forward.”