New London — Increasing use and profitability of State Pier is the top priority of a maritime strategy for the state that the Connecticut Port Authority is unveiling Thursday morning.
The Day received an advance copy of the strategy, which the port authority will formally announce at a 10 a.m. news conference in Hartford. It details much of what the port authority already is doing or talked about doing, such as increasing the volume of cargo coming in to the state’s deep-water ports in New London, Bridgeport and New Haven, which handled over 2.2 million metric tons of goods in 2017, and investing in smaller harbor improvement projects.
New London’s State Pier facility is a revenue generator for the port authority, which through ownership of the facility gets 6.75 percent of the assessable revenue generated from New London’s port. That’s amounted to about $500,000 in recent years. The state appropriated $400,000 in fiscal years 2017 and 2018 for the port authority. In five years, Scott Bates, chairman of the port authority’s board, hopes the quasi-public agency no longer will need annual funding from the state.
The port authority is seeking a port operator for State Pier, and is evaluating responses to its request for proposals based on which would lead to the highest and best use of the facility. It has extended the date to reply to the RFP from Aug. 10 to Aug. 31 due to “strong interest from multiple sectors” said Bates, with an announcement of the winner expected in mid-September. The port authority is prepared to put a lot of money into State Pier but wants to maximize that with investment by the next port operator.
Logistec, which has run pier operations for the last two decades, is among those bidding to be port operator. Its current operating lease ends Jan. 31, 2019.
The City of New London is seeking to capitalize on the expected uptick in activity and investment at State Pier, which also is expected to host a range of activities related to the burgeoning offshore wind industry. Mayor Michael Passero is eyeing the nearby 15-acre Crystal Avenue property, which is positioned in the middle of an industrial zone, as land that could be developed to support port operations. A process is underway for the New London Housing Authority, which owns the Crystal Avenue property, to sell it to the city, which then will explore selling or leasing the site to an outside entity.
“This is a choice for the city. It’s the city’s land,” Bates said of the property. “The city needs to find what it wants to do on this but we’re ready to be a real partner, and we have resources to bring to bear.”
Established by law in 2014, it took the port authority until February 2016 to become fully operational. The quasi-public agency is charged with being a maritime adviser to the governor and coming up with maritime strategy for the state, which is being unveiled Thursday and maps out what the port authority wants to do in the next five years, Bates said.
The strategy outlines that the port authority will continue to support dredging projects throughout the state. It soon will go to the State Bond Commission with a $5 million request to dredge around State Pier, Bates said.
It also lists leveraging emerging opportunities, such as making New London’s port a hub for offshore wind components, and bringing in more cruise ships to Pier 7 at Fort Trumbull. The bond commission recently approved $250,000 for the port authority to do planning and design work related to planned upgrades to the pier to ensure military ships still can dock there. City Pier is limited in the ships that can dock there due to length of the pier and depth of the berth.
Another part of the strategy is exploring the possibility of moving more cargo by rail, and coastal shipping — transporting cargo that is unloaded from large container ships in New York, which is “jammed up,” onto smaller vessels that could travel the coast to ports like New London, Bates said, to help reduce congestion on the roads.