The Patrick administration’s $113 million New Bedford marine terminal, built as a Cape Wind construction staging area, has become a taxpayer-funded boondoggle now that the controversial offshore wind farm project is virtually dead in the water.
The South Coast Marine Commerce Terminal, which is still under construction and sits empty, is also running $10 million over budget and months behind schedule.
Baker administration officials are trying to lease out the terminal, but they now expect to fetch a lower return on the taxpayers’ investment after executives behind Cape Wind pulled out of a two-year deal to rent the 28-acre facility for $4.5 million.
“I think it will be less. I think it’s just a question of how much less,” Matthew Beaton, the state’s energy and environmental affairs secretary, said of the expected lease deal. “We’re just trying to get the best deal possible.”
Beaton told the Herald the decision to greenlight the terminal project in the first place was a mistake, given the uncertain future at the time for Cape Wind, which planned to plant 130 turbines in Nantucket Sound.
“We shouldn’t have developed that, and I wouldn’t have,” Beaton said. “There’s a lot of things I would have done with $113 million that would have had an impact across the commonwealth. There’s no turning back the clock. We can’t get the money back. Now we’re left with an asset that we’re charged with making the most of.”
Under then-Gov. Deval Patrick, construction of the terminal was slated to be completed by the end of December, but dredging and electrical work aren’t expected to be finished until this spring, according the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, the quasi-public agency overseeing the project.
MCEC now hopes to lease the terminal to an outside port operator, which would in turn find tenants to rent the space and run the operations. The agency received proposals from three companies on March 30 and expects to name an operator by this summer, according to MCEC spokeswoman Catherine Williams.
Williams did not respond to an emailed request to name the three potential operators. But agency emails obtained by the Herald show five interested bidders as of earlier this year:
• Port Contractors Inc. of Wilmington, Del.;
• Logistec Corp. of Montreal, Canada;
• Waterson Terminal Services of Providence;
• Soli DG Inc. of Portland, Maine; and
• A joint partnership between American and German companies – Ports America and BLG Logistics.
Williams defended the New Bedford terminal as a long-term investment that “will be a platform for economic activity over the life of the facility.”
“We expect money will come to the state from users directly,” she said, “but there will also be direct and indirect economic activity – jobs at the terminal and at service providers and businesses around the port that will make money.”
Cape Wind spokesman Dennis Duffy said the offshore wind project still plans to use the New Bedford terminal at a later date, saying, “Cape Wind has been delayed due to pending appeals, but is moving forward.”
Cape Wind ended its agreement to lease the terminal after National Grid and Nstar – now known as Eversource – terminated contracts to buy power from the turbine project. The energy companies said Cape Wind missed a Dec. 31 deadline in the agreements for the necessary financing to begin construction and failed to put up collateral to extend the deadline.
Beaton said he considers Cape Wind likely kaput because the current hurdles facing the project are too high and he’s moving forward with long-term plans for the terminal.
“We want to make the best of this opportunity,” Beaton said. “We want to make sure we have the most impact going forward to protect the taxpayers and the citizens of New Bedford and the entire commonwealth.”
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