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Farmer’s battle with port authority started with a plan for rocks  

Credit:  By Angela Daughtry, Sun staff writer | The Westerly Sun | www.thewesterlysun.com ~~

STONINGTON – Kevin Blacker has a rock-solid plan and he’s not letting it go.

Unlike other farmers who just learn to live with boulders beneath the soil, Blacker, 33, who rents a farm that straddles the Stonington-North Stonington border, says he has found a way to make a profit from them.

As the sea level rises, he expects to see increased demand for boulders to protect the shoreline. Both New York City and Boston, he noted, are working on coastal resiliency plans.

“I made up my mind I was going to create a market for rocks and boulders,” Blacker said. “It became really clear, really fast that in order to make that market I was going to need a way to ship them by water. That led me to the Thames River, the closest deepwater port.”

Blacker has already amassed a large pile of boulders excavated from the soil of Wychwood Farm. Unfortunately his boulder-shipping project has been waylaid, he said, by the Connecticut Port Authority’s plan to use the State Pier in New London as a hub exclusively for the assembly and transport of wind farm components.

Determined to keep his dream alive, Blacker has become a bulldog gnawing at the heels of the Connecticut Port Authority to the point where he has raised the ire of some officials. He has also sued the port authority, saying its actions are harming farmers and the forest industry.

The Connecticut Port Authority controls the state’s three deepwater ports in Bridgeport, New Haven and New London.

“They started talking about using the New London State Pier entirely for the shipment of wind farm components and locking out other uses, and that would lock out the ability to ship boulders out of there, and it would lock out lumber, salt, steel and copper.”

“The reason I’ve been fighting the Port Authority really aggressively is that the measures they’re trying to put in place will have impacts for the next 20 years,” Blacker said. “If they do put it in place, it’s over two years of construction, a 10-year exclusive lease for Eversource Ørsted and an option to extend seven years.”

“They’ve said they are making all the existing businesses leave,” Blacker said. “They’ve said the pier is going to be dedicated exclusively to windmill components.”

Blacker said that if the New London pier only ships out wind farm parts, cargo ships will be forced to land at New Haven, which will put more trucks on the road to deliver goods in the Northeast.

“The other thing they’re trying to do at the State Pier is fill 7 acres between the two piers,” Blacker said. “Right now you have two docks and you can dock two full-size ships on each dock.”

“I have a hunch their desire to fill in between the two pier is …. Because the New London dredge dump site is currently closed, and right across the river is EB with the Columbia class dredging project,” Blacker said, referring to Electric Boat’s preparations for the next generatin of ballistic missile submarines. Calling it “short-sighted,” Blacker said he believes there is a better solution.

The port authority has also largely excluded the public from negotiations on the State Pier project, Blacker said, by not holding required public hearings, by meeting in executive sessions, and by changing meeting announcements at the very last minute.

Blacker says the state has implied that the $93 million plan was a done deal. The deal would be with pier operator Gateway Terminal and Bay State Wind, a joint venture of Ørsted and Eversource. In fact, the agreement is still being negotiated, but Blacker said the state and its partners wanted “to make people think it’s done and that there’s nothing we can do about it.”

“The more I’ve dug, the more questions I’ve found,” Blacker said of his investigation into the Connecticut Port Authority. He said he recently found out that Ørsted is 50 percent owned by the Danish government, and that Goldman-Sachs has about a 13 percent stake.

Blacker also noted that Gov. Ned Lamont’s wife, Ann, is a hedge fund operator, and “somebody needs to be asking what are her funds’ investments in renewable energy or offshore wind.”

“Some independent company needs to be verifying that there aren’t conflicts of interest.” Blacker said.

Blacker said that State Pier is also a foreign trade zone, which means cargo can come in from another country, be worked on or upgraded, and shipped out to another country without paying U.S. Customs.

“All these wind projects are going to take place offshore,” he said. “Our territorial waters extend 12 nautical miles offshore. What I want to know is, is outside that considered another country? Are they going to land the wind farm components in our foreign trade zones and ship them out and shirk paying our customs?”

Blacker said he gleaned a good amount of information on the port authority by reading newspapers, but also from reading government reports and attending port authority meetings. “You go to these port authority meetings and there’s maybe one other person from the public there,” he said. “Nobody’s watching.”

That may have been so earlier this summer, but the authority’s internal turmoil and ethical problems have since been widely publicized – thanks in part to Blacker.

Executive Director Evan Matthews has been placed on leave, for unexplained reasons. And at a special meeting on Wednesday, Old Lyme First Selectwoman Bonnie Reemsnyder, the authority’s chairwoman, stepped down, at the insistence of the governor. David Collins, a columnist with The Day, had discovered that the authority paid $3,000 to Reemsnyder’s daughter for photographs decorating its office in Old Saybrook. At the special meeting, as the paper later reported, the only public comments had come from Blacker.

Blacker noted that Block Island, Fishers Island and Long Island all may have storm resiliency needs, now or in the future. “We’re well positioned to ship the rocks out to places like that, where people have the money and the desire to protect their property,” he said.

“What the rocks are used for I’ll leave that up to coastal engineers,” Blacker said.

Blacker said he could start shipping his rocks from Mohawk Northeast pier, which is adjacent to State Pier. But by the same token, he said, Ørsted could potentially ship wind farm equipment from Fort Trumbull instead of the State Pier.

As to what he hopes to gain from his battle, Blacker said he merely wants his rock project to be successful.

“It also gives people a chance to voice their concerns,” he said. “It shows the public has the power to stop anything if it is unjust.”

Blacker has been renting Wychwood Farm for eight years and also rents farmland in Ledyard. He farms 175 acres between pasture and hay land, and also raises cows. He has a bachelors degree in soil science from the University of New Hampshire.

Source:  By Angela Daughtry, Sun staff writer | The Westerly Sun | www.thewesterlysun.com

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

The copyright of this article resides with the author or publisher indicated. As part of its noncommercial effort to present the environmental, social, scientific, and economic issues of large-scale wind power development to a global audience seeking such information, National Wind Watch endeavors to observe “fair use” as provided for in section 107 of U.S. Copyright Law and similar “fair dealing” provisions of the copyright laws of other nations. Send requests to excerpt, general inquiries, and comments via e-mail.

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