Leadership in the bureaucracy of the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection is on the brink of important decisions in two separate environmental applications, projects that together could change the look and use of New London’s deepwater port for generations.
The first is a request that DEEP put a temporary stay on its plans to issue a permit to allow a remaking of State Pier for wind turbine assembly, so that an appeal of the permit decision could be heard before 7 acres of the waters of the port are filled in and lost forever.
The appeal could be brought in Superior Court for an independent assessment – a crucial review, I would suggest, since the state essentially has been acting as both applicant and judge in the matter, with state bureaucrats who report to Gov. Ned Lamont making a decision about a project promoted and paid for by the governor, largely using taxpayer money.
The state should welcome that independent assessment, but of course no one in Hartford wants to deny or delay the $150 million subsidy, in the form of a pier remake, Lamont is determined to gift to the rich wind merchants.
The request for time for an appeal comes from the operator of the road salt business that was evicted from the pier so that it could be rebuilt to accommodate the assembly of offshore wind turbines. It’s just assembly. The turbines won’t be manufactured anywhere near Connecticut.
The second New London port decision pending before DEEP is a request by the National Coast Guard Museum Association to erect an enormous glassy building on a tiny waterfront property with no street frontage, on a flood plain on the wrong side of the railroad tracks, in the heart of the city’s transportation district.
Curiously, the opposition to the applications for both the State Pier and museum projects is based on the same coastal resources law that says development on the waterfront should be restricted to things that are dependent on using the coastal waters.
In the case of State Pier, the pending DEEP decision suggests in part the agency doesn’t have to favor one water-dependent use over another, even a preexisting one, or that ships taking freshly assembled wind turbines offshore are just as dependent on water access as a business importing road salt on ships. You can eliminate one water-dependent use, goes the reasoning, if you replace it with another.
I’d like to see an independent review of that conclusion.
I would suggest that closing the port to traditional shipping and shutting down the supply of salt used to keep the region’s roads safe in the winter is just the kind of loss of water-dependent use that lawmakers were trying to prevent in determining future development on waterfront property.
There is no pressing need, other than profit, for the rich utilities to use New London’s port to assemble wind turbines that will be placed far offshore. Indeed, there are backup plans and assembly opportunities in other states.
The non-water-dependent-use argument against the museum application is an especially strong one.
It was made, curiously, very well by New London’s Cross Sound Ferry company, which wrote a blistering letter at the time the downtown museum was proposed, saying it would use too much of the limited waterfront needed for future ferry and transportation needs.
The ferry company later recanted its opposition, after former Gov. Dannel Malloy threw into the project mix a $20 million pedestrian bridge linking the ferry’s terminal building and the museum to the city garage.
Still, the company’s objections against using precious flood-vulnerable property in the space-challenged transportation district remains a powerful argument against DEEP issuing that permit.
My request for emails from Lamont’s office to DEEP regarding the two projects have gone unanswered, and the matter seems headed for an eventual review by the Freedom of Information Commission.
I suspect, if I ever get to see the emails, that the governor’s hand in interfering with DEEP decision-making has probably been much heavier in making sure the utilities get what they want than in helping the Coast Guard build its museum.
Time may tell.
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