NEW BEDFORD – With just four months to go before work at South Terminal is complete, state and city officials are questioning whether the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center is up to the task of managing the facility.
The marine commerce terminal is being purpose-built to fit the needs of the American offshore wind industry, with Cape Wind already signing a lease option on the yet uncompleted site.
But some, like state Rep. William Straus, D-Mattapoisett, who chairs the Joint Committee on Transportation, are worried that MassCEC is ill equipped to manage such a complex site.
“That agency does good energy-related work but I am concerned it does not possess the bench strength to conduct the kind of technical review and evaluation process for management, use and access which should occur for a new $100 million port asset of the commonwealth,” Straus wrote last month in a letter to Rick Sullivan, chief of staff for Gov. Deval Patrick.
Sullivan did not respond to two requests for comment.
Straus said in an interview with The Standard-Times that he would prefer the Department of Transportation or the Harbor Development Commission manage South Terminal and that he is concerned that MassCEC does not have experience managing a port facility. Straus said he is worried MassCEC is too focused on securing contracts for shipments of wind turbine components, to the exclusion of other types of cargo.
“We want Cape Wind to use the facility, but we don’t want it to be the only company using it,” Straus said. “MassCEC has experience in renewable energy but they are not a harbor asset shipping port kind of agency. This isn’t exactly their forte.”
MassCEC Spokesman Matt Kakley said in a statement Monday that the agency has “always envisioned the terminal as a multi-use facility.”
“MassCEC will continue to work closely with our partners in the community and in government to ensure this large infrastructure investment will benefit the economies of New Bedford, the SouthCoast and the commonwealth as a whole for years to come,” he said.
Straus’ letter echoed concerns that Mayor Jon Mitchell said his administration has long held.
While Mitchell said he is “grateful” to the state for its investment in South Terminal, he said, “MassCEC is not the best manager of the facility.”
“South Terminal is one of many facilities in the harbor, the rest of which are managed by the HDC,” Mitchell said. “There needs to be some careful planning about how South Terminal is run, and the planning needs to be done by folks in the port management business.”
Straus, who suggested that the Department of Transportation or the city’s Harbor Development Commission should have a hand in choosing the port operator, said he began to question MassCEC’s capabilities last month after reading a letter from multiple tug boat pilots to MassCEC Offshore Wind Director Bill White stating the planned dimensions for the terminal’s turning basin and navigational channel were not wide enough for barges to safely maneuver.
“The above are primary, prohibitive safety deficiencies associated with the movement of vessels,” the letter stated. “This project must allow for the safe and repeated movement of vessels with an adequate margin of safety. Absent this, there is a substantial and unacceptable risk to the vessels and the environment of the commonwealth.”
Though MassCEC has since decided to widen the channel with another round of underwater blasting, Straus said it led him to question other management decisions made by the agency, including how the agency would chose a port operator.
New Bedford Wind Energy Director Matthew Morrissey said Monday he thought Straus made “a fair point,” noting that the city’s Harbor Development Commission should be on the list to help manage the property.
“The Patrick administration is obviously in its last months, and I’m sure that it is time for discussions to occur both with the city, HDC and other agencies to determine what the best course of action is to ensure that the facility is the economic catalyst that we all want it to be,” he said.
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