Small businessman asks for 2½ more months on New London state pier to save his company and 11 workers’ jobs. So far, he’s been granted 1 month.
The relatively new, quasi-public Connecticut Port Authority (CPA) has been put in charge of the New London pier, replacing the state transportation department, and it quickly agreed to a mega-deal with two big corporations for redevelopment of the port as a hub for pre-assembly of giant, offshore wind turbines. They’re to be floated seaward and planted 12 miles southwest of Martha’s Vineyard. That $157 million redevelopment deal with Eversource and the Danish wind energy company Ørsted means there won’t be room on the pier for Farrelly and his road-salt mountain — or for any other longtime tenants such as commercial fishermen — for years.
When you’re outgunned, sometimes you make your last stand on high ground. The site of Steven Farrelly’s last stand is 60 feet high – a gigantic mountain of salt, 85,000 tons piled onto the State Pier in New London, scooped by cranes out of ships that floated it all the watery way from Egypt.
For six years, shiploads of that desert-mined salt have been used to melt ice on Connecticut highways, streets, sidewalks and parking areas – after being sold by Farrelly’s company, DRVN Enterprises, to about 250 customers, including plowing contractors, state and local governments, hospitals and colleges.
DRVN prospered from its leased base at the State Pier – “I went from zero employees to 15 employees in five years,” says Farrelly – but that changed drastically in the past year because of political and corporate forces beyond Farrelly’s control.
Now he faces eviction from the New London pier and the prospect of eating $5 million worth of salt, which can be unhealthy.
The relatively new, quasi-public Connecticut Port Authority (CPA) has been put in charge of the New London pier, replacing the state transportation department, and it quickly agreed to a mega-deal with two big corporations for redevelopment of the port as a hub for pre-assembly of giant, offshore wind turbines. They’re to be floated seaward and planted 12 miles southwest of Martha’s Vineyard.
That $157 million redevelopment deal with Eversource and the Danish wind energy company Ørsted means there won’t be room on the pier for Farrelly and his road-salt mountain – or for any other longtime tenants such as commercial fishermen – for years.
Farrelly has been told he needs vacate the pier, and will forfeit any unsold salt he leaves there. An original March 31 deadline was pushed back to Dec. 31, but that still puts Farrelly in a fix.
He says he needs another 2½ months, until March 15, to sell his last 85,000 tons during the peak winter demand of January, February and early March.
If he doesn’t get an extension, he said on Wednesday, “we’re done.”
That would also be the end for the 11 employees he’s managed to keep on the payroll during the recent tough times in which he said he’s tried, but failed, to find an alternate location.
“I owe $5 million,” the cost of buying the most recent two shiploads of salt, Farrelly said, adding that he’ll have no trouble selling the remaining inventory, and keeping his business afloat, if he’s just granted the extra time.
“We just need this winter,” he said. “All I want to do is break even. Make my creditors whole – that’s my goal.”
On Friday he got a one-month reprieve, to the end of January, in a meeting with the CPA’s new executive director, John Henshaw, who was hired in August after having served as an official of the Maine Port Authority.
Nothing is guaranteed beyond that, Farrelly said he was told. But the situation will be reviewed on a month-by-month basis as to his progress in selling the remaining salt, as well as the question of whether the wind turbine project has enough leeway in its timetable for environmental remediation to give him more time.
“That gives us hope,” said Farrelly’s wife, Michelle Farrelly, who also attended Friday’s meeting with Henshaw at the CPA’s Old Saybrook office. “There could be five ice days” in December or January, she said, in which case “Steve could be done.”
“What we offered was basically a month-to-month extension, beginning with one month,” Henshaw said Friday. “The reason for that is, we’re trying to be cautious” and “make sure that the salt is moving. We don’t want to end up with 85,000 tons of salt at the end of March and be in the same position that we’re in now.”
“He does have the potential for additional months” in February and March, Henshaw said, “but that’s assuming that we’re making progress, and understanding that we are going to have [environmental] remediation activity” going on at the site in preparation for the long-term wind turbine project.
“We’ve demonstrated a continued willingness to work with him,” Henshaw said, adding, “I think it’s all of our goals to see him successful in selling that salt.”
“We’re going to give him as much runway as possible to do so, working within the project’s logistics,” said David Kooris, the CPA’s governing board chairman.
He said that to partly compensate Farrelly for having to move the salt mountain a few hundred yards across the pier site last year (to make room for the redevelopment), he hasn’t been charged his $12,000 monthly rent since August. Moving the salt took two weeks and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, Farrelly said.
Although things looked better for the Farrellys Friday than midweek, it’s all still been been a stressful experience – which has been played out against a backdrop of a scandal that has plagued the port authority agency in recent years, and of controversy surrounding the Eversource-Ørsted wind deal and the selection of a new port operator.
Scandal attended the abrupt resignation in July 2019 of Bonnie Reemsnyder, then-chairwoman of the CPA’s board, after Gov. Ned Lamont said controversy over publicly financed photos taken by her daughter was a “sideshow and distraction” and demanded she quit.
In addition, State Auditor John Geragosian said a review of travel and meals at the port authority found “no documentation, no process, no policies and procedures in place to determine whether those expenses were appropriate.”
Meanwhile, the $157 million project redeveloping the New London pier into a wind energy hub is the port authority’s centerpiece. Eversource and the Danish company have committed $77.5 million, and the other $79.5 million is to be financed by the state and CPA in bond funding.
However, although the so-called Revolution Wind project is supposed to create a lot of jobs and leave the state with a much-improved New London port in 20 years or so, it still has bred a lot of controversy.
For one thing, the New London pier will be closed to cargo shipping during the years of the wind-energy product – which was a departure from the CPA’s originally stated intention to continue it, although with interruptions resulting from the ongoing redevelopment.
And, for another, the CPA has recently awarded the contract for operation of the New London pier to Gateway Terminal, which operates the competing port of New Haven. Gateway teamed up with Eversource-Ørsted in responding to the port authority’s request for proposals, and has replaced the former New London pier operator, Logistec.
Some critics see Gateway as gaining a dual advantage of more shipping at its New Haven port while eliminating competition from New London.
The Day of New London’s columnist, David Collins, has covered the port authority closely and authored numerous disclosures of improprieties leading to the 2019 management shakeup. Collins’ column recently has mentioned Gateway’s ties with companies that import and distribute salt through its New Haven terminal – and which compete with Farrelly’s soon-to-be-shut-down business on the New London pier, now under Gateway’s control.
Collins’ latest column on the subject, last Tuesday, asked in the headline: “Will Lamont finish destroying New London’s road salt business?” It reported on a plea for help that Farrelly emailed to Lamont on Nov. 14, and had not received an answer to.
Farrelly wrote: “Although we have been granted extensions in the past that were greatly appreciated, they were only temporary solutions. With the current December 31st deadline looming and a forfeiture of the salt to the CT. Port Authority at stake we are asking you to step in and allow us extra time to sell and move the remaining salt. … This will allow us to stay in business, pay our creditors and alleviate the loss of jobs and any further damage to DRVN and many of its CT. based subcontractors and vendors who depend on the income we provide them throughout these winter months.”
Asked Thursday about the email, and what the harm would be in giving Farrelly until March 15, Lamont’s communications director, Max Reiss, said he’d check into it. Friday morning, Farrelly was told by Henshaw he’d be given the extra month, and possibly more. Later Friday, Reiss came back with a statement that “the administration is supportive of the extension.”
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