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Cape Wind delay slows New Bedford terminal; Port project not shovel-ready

Cape Wind’s financial shortcomings have short-circuited New Bedford’s marine commerce terminal, a state-funded development that has yet to materialize on the Whaling City waterfront a full year after Gov. Deval Patrick trumpeted the job-boosting project with pre-election fanfare.

“As the Cape Wind project has taken longer than anyone expected, it’s delayed the urgency of getting the terminal ready,” said New Bedford Mayor Scott Lang. “Every day that goes by that we can’t put together the infrastructure … is a day we’re literally delaying getting people back to work.”

Lang said the $35 million port terminal, expected to create 300 construction jobs and hundreds more permanent jobs, lost steam in May when the Department of Energy put on hold a loan guarantee for the $2.5 billion Cape Wind project, which has yet to secure private financing or a buyer for half of its power output.

“If Cape Wind had gotten the financial guarantees last spring … we’d be there with cranes and shovels right now finishing things up,” said Lang, who now expects construction of the terminal project to start in February or March. “I think what drove the timetable was the need.”

Meanwhile, the Patrick administration has yet to lock up private land it needs for the port project, despite months of negotiations and the threat of eminent domain hanging over a real estate deal. The state and Shuster Corp., owners of 11 acres at the site of the terminal project, have reached only a “general agreement” that would keep the bearings manufacturer’s building, but free up unused land.

“It’s not finalized because there are still details to be worked out,” said Shuster spokesman Jim Cabot. “They’re big fans of New Bedford and they view this as a good thing. They want to bring economic activity and jobs to the area.”

The Massachusetts Clean Energy Center said the marine terminal project is “progressing as can be expected,” given its size and complexity. The agency also hinted that the price tag could rise due to the purchase of Shuster’s waterfront parcels, which have a combined assessed value of nearly $2 million.

“The $35 million estimate last year was a preliminary estimate for construction only,” spokeswoman Kate Plourd said in a statement. “We are getting ready to put the project out to bid soon and at that time we will be receiving competitive bids that will provide a market-based cost for the project.”

Patrick announced the taxpayer-financed plan in October 2010, surrounded by state and local elected officials and Cape Wind president Jim Gordon. The terminal is not intended solely for Cape Wind, but if New Bedford builds it, the wind energy project is expected to come.

Cape Wind would lease the 28-acre facility for an on-shore staging area where workers would assemble massive turbines and steel foundations and ship them out to Nantucket Sound. Other offshore wind developers, including Winchester’s Neptune Wind, and import-export companies are eyeing the port.

“Clearly the Cape Wind project served as the catalyst, but it has never been assumed as a facility that had to rely only on Cape Wind,” said Matthew Morrissey, head of the New Bedford Economic Development Council. “We remain very confident that the tremendous amount of work the state has put into the project will lead to its successful start date.”