The launch of Connecticut Port Authority (CPA) looks to open up new opportunities for the State’s ports.

Getting off the Ground

Back in June of 2014, Connecticut’s Governor Dannel P. Malloy signed PA 14-222, which led to the establishment of Connecticut Port Authority (CPA) in 2015. Prior to the formation of the CPA, the State’s ports were under the Connecticut Department of Transportation, although the actual running of the ports was under the various local port authorities, such as Bridgeport, New London and New Haven, the main three.

Establishing just how the CPA was to be managed and ratcheting down the new organization’s “mission statement” took a little time. In September of last year (2016), the CPA hired Evan Matthews as their first executive director. Matthews was well known, as he’d spent 13 years at the Port of Davisville in Rhode Island overseeing a period of great expansion at that port (see story on page 6).

Although Matthews has great experience with the challenges of ports on New England’s “south coast”, the new role at the CPA in many respects is very different.

In an interview with the AJOT, he explained that the quasi-state agency CPA “is more like a state economic development corporation” than a state port authority. Matthews elaborated that the main responsibilities for the CPA are marketing the State’s ports, pursuing federal and state funding for dredging and coordinating, planning and implementing capital projects. “We’re [CPA] facilitators” rather than managers, Matthews added. As before, the port management still resides with the local authorities with several notable differences. In the past, the ports and harbors (there are also a number of smaller facilities under the CPA umbrella) were just one group of many vying for a slice of the DOT budget and time. The CPA, on the other hand, has its own resources. For example, the CPA has $7.5 million for the SHIPP (Small Harbor Improvement Projects Program) directed at helping smaller harbors that in the past might have had difficulty in securing funding. The ability to tap into State’s bonds is also clearly an advantage to the CPA’s ability to collaborate on projects. In February, the Bond Commission approved $4.5 million for the New London State Pier Facility project.

Deepwater Ports

Sometimes the economic contributions of three major Connecticut deepwater ports, Bridgeport, New London and New Haven, get overlooked with the Port of New York/New Jersey literally just down the road, and Massport’s Conley Terminal to the Northeast, and Rhode Island’s Davisville nearby.

Nevertheless, 11.4 million tons of freight annually run through Connecticut’s ports with another 4.6 million in freight connected to regional railways. In fact, in many respects because of the central location, the State’s ports like New London and New Haven function like the “break bulk ports” for the Port of New York, New Jersey or even the Port of Boston.

For example, the Port of New London handles cargoes (Logistec acting as stevedore and operational port manager) such as salt, lumber, paper, copper and steel. Because of a solid construction, the pier’s able to handle heavy freight and with on dock rail and an interstate close to the facility, shifting the loads for destination is far easier than many more congested ports. The facility also has a significant amount of under-cover warehouse space to enable the handling of weather sensitive freight like steel coils or paper. Salt is also a major import to the facility, recently coming to the Port from Egypt. The salt is then treated on site to enhance its qualities for cold weather applications and sold regionally for use on roads.

Future for Connecticut Ports

The creation of the CPA represents an important first step in a larger collaboration of port interests in Connecticut. The CPA represents an opportunity to leverage the assets of all three deep water ports to betterment of the collective whole. The chance to pursue more break bulk and project cargo requires an investment that would be beyond any individual metro-port authority but well within the reach of the State’s financial and political power.

While being a quasi-state entity helps establish the CPA in the role as a “project” leader for big picture initiatives and opens up a wealth of opportunities for private fund collaboration.

While break bulk and energy related cargo are well established, there is an opportunity to re-establish a perishable import and export sector (the region was once a major import destination for South American bananas and fruit). Another sector that holds promise is offshore wind. If this industry catches hold in the Northeast, as many analysts predict, then the ports in Connecticut will be well placed to serve this emerging sector. Even the possibility of a cruise ship business is on the table.

There are already initiatives underway that could have long term impacts to the State’s ports and economy. Among them is a feasibility study for the deepening of the Port of New Haven which has been submitted to the US Army Corps (USACE) during its public comment period.

These are early days for the CPA, as Matthews noted saying it “was a work in progress.” It is a vast number of miles the new executive director travels each week to build the network of port related assets into a whole, but the timing couldn’t be better and the real payoff may not be that far down the road.