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Can governor assure State Pier price won’t keep rising?

We share state Sen. Paul Formica’s frustration over the growing price tag of the State Pier’s redevelopment plan and the “so what?” attitude of the Connecticut Port Authority and the Lamont administration.

“I can’t tell you how offended I am at the total mismanagement of the project,” Formica said at a recent meeting of the port authority board. “You should all resign if you can’t get this right.”

The Republican’s 20th Senatorial District includes New London and its port.

Like this editorial board, Formica sees the value in the project’s concept. Use a combination of private and state funds to upgrade the long underperforming port; the incentive for that private investment being utilization as a staging area for large-scale offshore wind-power development.

While that use is expected to dominate port activities for the next decade or so, when it is completed New London will have a state facility able to accommodate larger and more varied cargo ship merchandise.

But that private-public sharing is increasingly looking public heavy.

When the price tag for the major redevelopment was placed at $157 million, the private share of $70 million – coming from the

Ørsted and Eversource partnership in support for their offshore wind projects – was about 45% of the cost, a near split.

Then the price tag started to creep up and has kept creeping. More aptly, it has been rocketing up.

When Gov. Ned Lamont met with our editorial board in January, he said the new estimate was around $200 million. In mid-April, Kosta Diamantis, deputy secretary of the state Office of Policy and Management, who is overseeing the project for the administration, told the State Bond Commission the new estimate was $235 million.

That makes the private share now 30%, not nearly as impressive.

The Ørsted-Eversource partnership apparently knew what it was doing when it locked in its contribution. One has to wonder if it had instead been obligated to a proportional share of the eventual costs, say around 40%, that Ørsted-Eversource would have made darn sure the costs did not escalate like this.

Also maddening was Diamantis lack of any real explanation. These things happen on big projects, was his attitude, and by extension the attitude of the administration and the port authority. “It is what it is,” Diamantis said.

This situation needs the attention of the congressional delegation – Rep. Joe Courtney and Senators Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, Democrats all with Democrats in control of the House, Senate and presidency. A big infrastructure package is still being negotiated. How about making sure the language supports State Pier redevelopment qualifying for some of that federal funding?

It checks off all the boxes. It is surely infrastructure. The port is in a distressed city. The plan includes private investment. And it is in support of renewable energy and mitigating climate change, priorities for the Biden administration.

Meanwhile we’d like to trust that this is the final surprise, that we now know what this project will cost. Maybe Gov. Lamont can provide such an assurance? How about, rather than “it is what is,” a gubernatorial statement – “This is it, no more.”