The State Pier project in New London has been underway, in some form or other, for over three years. Announced in 2019, the project will expand one of the state’s three ports to allow for heavy lift capacity. The goal? A facility capable of supporting the assembly and shipping of wind turbines before they make their way to a wind farm off the coast of Rhode Island.
Once completed, the pier will be a first-of-it’s kind facility on the East Coast, supporting a growing side of the energy sector. New England energy supplier Eversource has partnered with Ørsted, a Danish company, to lease out the completed pier for at least a decade and the Connecticut Port Authority has partnered with Gateway to operate the terminal during that time.
But the last three years haven’t been without hurdles, from scandals and questions over management decisions at the Port Authority to the recent resignation and subsequent Federal Grand Jury investigation into former Office of Policy Management (OPM) Deputy Secretary Kosta Diamantis to a steep rise in price tag. With the finish line still a year off, it can be tough to keep track of everything going on, so we’ve set up this timeline to help.
5/2: Lamont announces initial plan
In a press conference on May 2, 2019, Gov. Ned Lamont announced that the state would be entering into an agreement with New England energy company Eversource and Ørsted, a Danish company, to develop the New London State Pier into a staging ground for offshore wind energy.
The project was priced at $93 million, including a $35 million commitment from Orsted/Eversource. It was projected to be completed by March 2022.
The Connecticut Port Authority (CPA) was placed in charge of the development of the pier. The CPA had also contracted with Gateway to manage the pier upon completion.
5/14: House passes offshore wind legislation
Just over a week after Gov. Lamont announced the plan to convert State Pier into a staging area for offshore wind, the Connecticut House of Representatives passed a bill which would allow the state to purchase up to 2,000 megawatts of power generated by offshore wind projects. That amounts to about 30% of the state’s power load and, according to the governor’s office, was the largest such authorization by any state in the region.
6/7: Lamont signs offshore wind legislation into law
Following passage of the bill in both chambers of the Connecticut General Assembly, Gov. Lamont signed HB 7156 into law. The new law allows for the purchase of offshore wind energy and for the development of offshore wind in Connecticut. It also requires the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) to set standards by which those projects would minimize environmental impact.
7/4: CPA Board Chair resigns due to ongoing scandal, Executive Director placed on leave
In mid-2019, a scandal at the Connecticut Port Authority set the first roadblock for the offshore wind project. Following media reports that the CPA paid the daughter of Board Chair Bonnie Reemsnyder $3,000 for six photographs hung in the agency’s office, Gov. Lamont called for Reemsnyder to resign. Reemsnyder complied with the request saying, “I regret if any of my actions put the port authority in a negative light.”
Following her resignation, Gov. Lamont stated that negotiations for the State Pier project were ongoing and that his administration would step in to lead them. At the same time, CPA Executive Director Evan Matthews was placed on paid administrative leave for undisclosed reasons and later resigned.
8/9: OPM Secretary takes over CPA financial matters
Shortly after directing his Chief of Staff and Chief Operating Officer to review the Port Authority’s management and operations, Gov. Lamont announced a series of actions his administration would be taking at the CPA. The largest of these was to direct then Secretary of the Office of Policy and Management Melissa McCaw to “take a direct and active part in the financial decisions of the CPA board through her official position on the board as well as her role as the state’s chief fiscal officer.”
Additionally, the governor directed the CPA’s new acting Board Chair, David Kooris, to hire an independent firm to perform an audit of the agency’s financial and management practices. He also directed Kooris and the board to prioritize the deal to develop State Pier for offshore wind.
At the same time, the governor accepted the resignation of CPA board member and former chair Scott Bates.
10/31: State Auditor’s Office releases audit of CPA
The regular bi-annual state audit of the Connecticut Port Authority found several management and financial issues during the 2018-2019 fiscal years. Among those issues were incomplete policies regarding time off and record keeping, as well as issues related to expenses. The most widely covered of those issues were a large number of hotel, meal, and entertainment expenses related which did not have supporting documentation.
The State Auditor laid the blame for these issues on “a lack of management oversight.” The CPA, in its response to the findings, noted that the governor’s intervention starting in August was already assisting in fixing the problems noted in the report.
2/11: Final Harbor Development Agreement
Nine months after the initial announcement, the state released the details of the final Harbor Development Agreement between the Connecticut Port Authority, Gateway New London, and New England Offshore, the joint venture of Eversource and Orsted. The estimated completion of the project was updated to August 2022.
The agreement also laid out the updated projected cost of the project, which went from $93 million the year before to $157 million in the final agreement. That amount is split between both public and private investment, with NEO committing to $70 million in expenditures, $20 million of which represents $2 million lease payments over 10 years (and which does not factor into the total budgeted costs). The remaining $107 million was the responsibility of the Port Authority, as were any expenses which exceeded the budgeted $157 million.
During the press conference announcing the agreement, Deputy OPM Secretary Kosta Diamantis said, “There are no overruns in this project.”
According to Kooris at a CPA Board meeting in 2022, the difference between the original $93 million and the final (as of February 2020) $157 million was based on a change to the scope of the project. Namely, the design changed and required additional demolition to shift the location of the heavy lift pad.
2/25: New London signs Host Community Agreement
Since the State Pier is situated in, but not run by, the City of New London, North East Offshore and the city also came to a separate agreement which provides financial incentives to the city to support the project. Under the Host Community Agreement, NEO will pay the City of New London $750,000 per year for 10 years. The agreement also allows for additional payments of up to $250,000 per year to the city once NEO’s power purchase agreement is approved by the state.
A clause in the agreement which has come under some scrutiny from residents is one in which both the city and NEO agree not to make statements or take actions that “may interfere with or harm the interests of either the other in connection with the Project.” Speaking with CII, Mayor Passero says he doesn’t “feel that there is anything in that agreement that restricts me from speaking my mind on any issue related to the project.”
4/21-6/15: Bids awarded for the project
Over the course of six weeks, bids for the construction project at State Pier were accepted and awarded by the Connecticut Port Authority Board. You can listen to each of the meetings in which these votes happened on their website.
At the end of the period, the CPA released a full list of those bids, along with their vendors and amounts, on their website. The total budgeted cost for the project was now listed as $235.5 million, a sharp increase from the $157 million outlined in the Harbor Development Agreement.
At that 2022 CPA Board meeting, Kooris stated that the increase in budgeted funds was the result of a number of factors, including soft costs that weren’t included in the original agreement. “The bulk of it was just estimates meeting reality,” said Kooris, explaining that when the CPA brought the project to public bids, the real costs were much higher.
6/16: Demolition begins on Warehouse/Maintenance Shops
The pier development project includes several stages, starting with the demolition of older buildings on the property. The Connecticut Port Authority has been documenting the various demolition and construction steps in a timeline on their website.
10/20: Grand Jury Subpoena in Diamantis case, including State Pier
The Federal Bureau of Investigation served a subpoena requesting all emails, text messages, and attachments from (now former) OPM Deputy Secretary Kosta Diamantis regarding several construction projects including the State Pier. Diamantis had been placed in charge of the pier project due to his background in construction at the Department of Administrative Services.
The existence of this subpoena was unknown until February of 2022. At the time it was issued, Diamantis was facing scrutiny following questions into the hiring of his daughter at the office of the State’s Attorney. Following its release, the lawyer for Diamantis told the CT Mirror that the FBI had not reached out to his client regarding the case.
10/28: Diamantis resigns from OPM
Following the controversy over his daughter’s hiring at the State’s Attorney’s office, Kosta Diamantis abruptly resigned after the governor’s office placed him on paid leave. Gov. Lamont did not comment on the reason for his ousting, but Diamantis, speaking with the CT Mirror, said it was due to questions over her hiring.
When asked by The Day whether he was concerned that Diamantis’ resignation and the impending investigation into his daughter’s hiring would hinder the State Pier project, New London Mayor Passero said he did not believe it would.
Following Diamantis’ resignation, Department of Administrative Services Deputy Commissioner Noel Petra took over as the state lead on the pier project.
12/17: CPA receives final permit for in-water work
The Army Corps of Engineers finally issued the last required permit to the Connecticut Port Authority in December of 2021. That permit allows for the bulk of the work to begin, including the demolition of portions of the existing pier and dredging work required to build out the new structure.
CPA chair David Kooris has cited delays in final federal permits as part of the reason for additional cost overages in 2022.
2/4: Contracting Board says CPA may not have had authority to enter into agreement
After a member of the public filed a complaint with the State Contracting Standards Board, the board voted to begin an inquiry into the Port Authority’s procurement processes for the State Pier project.
In their draft report released in early February, the board stated that, among other concerns, they did not believe the CPA was allowed under state law to enter into the Harbor Development Agreement two years before. At issue is a statute which allowed agencies like the CPA to enter these agreements until January 2020 and which had expired a month before the HDA was signed. Following January 2020, public-private partnerships were required to be subject to a public hearing in the General Assembly. No such public hearing occurred.
The CPA argued, in comments attached to the draft report, that the phrase “public-private” as used in the HDA is “a widely-used term” and did not extend to the specific use which falls under that statute.
2/25: OPM Secretary resigns
In late February, OPM Secretary Melissa McCaw chose to step down from her position in the Lamont administration. She did so as the department remained under intense scrutiny due to former Deputy Secretary Diamantis’ questionable dealings. McCaw left to take a position as Finance Director in East Hartford. Jeff Beckham took over as acting secretary.
Connecticut Port Authority Executive Director John Henshaw announced in March that he would be stepping down, two years after he took over the post from ousted Executive Director Evan Matthews in 2019. Henshaw plans to return to Maine and will remain in his post at the CPA until April 21st.
April 20: Hammond appointed interim Executive Director
In a unanimous vote by the board, Ulysses B. Hammond was named the interim Executive Director of the Connecticut Port Authority, set to take over for Henshaw upon his departure. Hammond has a long resume in Human Resources and management and will be helping to oversee the State Pier project while the CPA looks for a permanent replacement. They are expected to announce that replacement later in 2022.