It was way back in July, long before the chilly winds of October began to blow, that I first learned that Connecticut Port Authority’s $93 million plan to transform New London’s Pier into a wind turbine assembly facility was not a done deal.
Most people assumed, when Gov. Ned Lamont came to town in early May to ceremoniously announce the deal, including his own $35.5 million contribution, that it was all signed and sealed.
The headline from the announcement said it all: “State strikes deal for offshore wind hub in New London.” No one asked for a correction.
It turns out, we learned later, the only thing signed in May when the governor made his announcement was a memorandum between the port authority, port operator Gateway Terminals and the wind energy partners, apparently sketching out the parameters of a deal still to be negotiated.
The port authority, which essentially has been taken over by the governor, has refused a Freedom of Information request to release that memorandum. It’s secret only to the public. The others who signed know what’s in it.
And since July, when the port authority began melting down with multiple scandals, the governor’s administration has insisted the New London wind deal is largely negotiated, suggesting at times the only delay might be lawyers fussing over things like periods and commas.
The port authority has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on expensive lawyers, and as this now drags into its sixth month, I can’t imagine they haven’t been able to hammer out the wording if there is general agreement on the terms. You could write a peace armistice for a world war by now.
If there isn’t general agreement, why won’t the governor’s team say what’s holding them apart?
On Aug. 20, more than seven weeks ago, David Kooris, deputy commissioner of the Department of Economic and Community Development, serving as interim port authority chairman, gave Connecticut lawmakers his latest version of the spin about a mostly done deal.
“Now nearly complete, the legal document that codifies the (May 2 memo) is being reviewed by the administration to ensure it attains our desired benefits for the public.”
That takes months? It seems to me somebody is not telling the whole story.
Curiously, it was a conversation I had in July with former port authority Director Evan Matthews in which I got confirmation that the deal wasn’t signed. It was that same conversation, according to Kooris, that led to Matthews being placed on leave, because the director made inappropriate and derogatory comments to me about authority critic Kevin Blacker.
The reason I was talking to Matthews in July was because Blacker had sent an email to the news media reporting rumors that the deal was not signed and that an agenda item calling for the port authority board to ratify it had been suddenly withdrawn.
Apparently Blacker’s reports of an apparent crack in the deal, way before all the scandals started to unspool and before Kooris took the port authority reins, touched a big nerve with the authority director. Before his remarks to me, he emailed Blacker and threatened to call the police on him.
I’m not even sure today, if the deal was indeed ready to sign, that they could muster up enough port authority juice to legally ratify it, the agency has been so hollowed out by scandal.
One potential whistleblower refused hush money from the Lamont-run port authority for a deal not to talk to the news media. Complaints by a real whistleblower of management misuse of funds still are being investigated. Stay tuned.
The governor needs to explain what’s going on with the wind talks, especially since the port is now essentially shut down, with the new operator diverting ships to the competing non-union facility it owns in New Haven. Union employees here were made to sign nondisclosure agreements preventing them from talking about the lack of activity at the New London pier.
This all begins to make the governor’s botched rollout of his toll strategy look like genius.
This is the opinion of David Collins.
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