New Bedford residents have long been looking at the South Terminal Project as something that is still on the drawing board. Now, the Environmental Protection Agency’s approval of the project last week has sent city officials into high gear, planning for the next step in what they hope will mark the beginning of an economic transformation for New Bedford.
The 28.5-acre terminal specially designed for offshore wind turbine staging is projected to create thousands of jobs. Because of this, the port facility has been described by officials as the most promising economic development to hit the city in the past half century.
Before that happens, the project must be put out to bid, which can be a lengthy process.
Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Rick Sullivan said that the project cannot be put out to bid until the state first reviews the EPA’s project permit and ensures that the request complies.
That review will take two to three weeks, after which a bid document will be released to the public, Sullivan said.
Sullivan said contractors will have 60 days to make proposals once the request for bids is released, but acknowledged that “this is obviously a complicated project and it’s a complicated bid for contractors to put together.”
“We are confident we will have enough applications within 60 days, but it’s a pretty aggressive time schedule for a project with multiple construction and environmental components,” he said.
Sullivan said the contract should be awarded sometime early in 2013.
As is required by state law, the project will be awarded to “the lowest responsible bidder,” Sullivan said. With this project, part of being a responsible bidder will be the ability to complete the project on the accelerated construction schedule that state and city officials have set forth in order to have the terminal fully operable in time for use by Cape Wind, the 130-turbine offshore wind farm planned for Nantucket Sound.
“It would be hard for someone who has never done any marine projects before to get this done in a timely fashion,” Sullivan said. “You’re talking about a relatively small number of general contractors that are able to bid this type of work.”
Work can start as soon as a contractor is chosen, Sullivan said.
Construction of the terminal, including the dredging of navigational channels, is expected to take roughly 19 months, with work being completed by late 2014 or early 2015.
Sullivan would not comment on whether any contractors have already expressed interest in the project. Neither would Alicia Barton McDevitt, who is executive director and CEO of the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, which is running the bidding.
“We’re trying to be very careful to run an airtight process,” McDevitt said. “We are not engaging in conversations outside of the structured bid process.”
Rep. Antonio F. D. Cabral, D-New Bedford, said that the costs of construction could potentially reach $100 million. The state Legislature has already passed a capital budget for Fiscal Year 2013 allocating $29 million for the project, Cabral said. There is another $29 million proposed for the next fiscal year. He said the Legislature may have to budget more money in the future if bids from contractors are for more than that.
Building the terminal itself will create approximately 200 jobs, and more are expected to be created as the terminal is used by Cape Wind and in other offshore wind energy projects.
Matthew Morrissey, executive director at the New Bedford Economic Development Council, said not all of the jobs created by the terminal will go to New Bedford residents, explaining that “our assumption is that these contractors will bring in some of their regular crews.”
But “they will also be involved in hiring new employees,” he said.
Contractors tasked with building the terminal will have to meet regulations regarding state funding that require at least 15 percent of their hires to be women or minorities, Buddy Andrade, executive director of the Old Bedford Village Development Corp. said. They also will have to adhere to a New Bedford City ordinance requiring 50 percent of their workers to be from the city.
New Bedford officials say they are working hard to ensure that residents will be qualified for the jobs created by South Terminal.
“In addition to the construction jobs in the beginning, there are about 27 different jobs related to maritime terminals we want to make people have the training for,” Andrade said.
He said his organization is working with Morrissey and to give residents information about what types of training programs are available to them.
“We have a few years before the terminal is operational, but we need to get people prepared with GEDs and construction safety training and whatever else they need,” Andrade said. “Training starts now.”
Executive Director of the Workforce Investment Board Leonard Coriaty said the city and state are actively looking for grants and foundation money that could help fund training for New Bedford residents.
The organization has also been working with Bristol Community College, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth and the city’s vocational technical high schools to ensure that appropriate training programs are available.
“We haven’t been waiting around for EPA approval,” he said. “We have been planning for this as an inevitability, so we are prepared for the next steps.”
Morrissey said some economic benefits to the city could begin “as soon as people are working on the job site.”
But, he cautioned, “I don’t think we will see an immediate economic boom as soon as construction begins.”
“What I can say is that over the deployment of Cape Wind, there will be a project that represents more than $2 billion moving through New Bedford, Massachusetts and that will create not only jobs at the terminal itself but also stimulate the city’s economy,” he said.
Much of the terminal’s economic success is hinged on Cape Wind, which has committed to stage its 130-turbine offshore wind farm here if it is complete in time for the project. If not, the developer plans to use Quonset Point in North Kingston, R.I.
Cape Wind Spokesman Mark Rogers said the EPA’s approval of the terminal “was a day long in coming,” and “an important milestone for the project.”
He said the wind developer will “continue to stay in close communication with the city and the state on what the timeline is going to be.”
Mayor Jon Mitchell said that even without Cape Wind, the terminal will have lasting economic benefits for the city because of two more wind energy areas offshore of Massachusetts that the federal government is preparing for development.
“This project puts us at a good position to compete in a way that we haven’t been able to compete in a major industry for some time,” he said.
Mitchell predicted that the terminal will also have indirect economic benefits for the city by encouraging “supply chain businesses” to set up shop in New Bedford.
“Turbines have many parts; the towers, the blades the cables,” he said. “We’ve already begun reaching out to the manufacturers of these components to show them that we are a business-friendly city and that we have real assets to offer them.”
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