Connecticut’s State Pier was to be a world-class hub for offshore wind. Now it’s overdue, overbudget and under investigation
The ambitious plan to transform an aging New London pier into a hub for Connecticut’s offshore wind industry has long been besieged by delays and ballooning costs.
When Gov. Ned Lamont’s administration announced in 2019 that it had reached a harbor development agreement to redevelop the dilapidated State Pier, the initial price tag was $93 million, and officials aimed to complete it by March 2022.
Now, the project remains a year from completion, its estimated cost has swelled by 250%, and it has drawn the attention of federal investigators looking into spending projects overseen by Konstantinos Diamantis, the former deputy secretary of the Office of Policy and Management, who was fired by Lamont last year.
In October, the U.S. Attorney’s office in New Haven served a federal grand jury subpoena to the Lamont administration, requesting all communication dating to Jan. 1, 2018, connected to Diamantis’s involvement with school construction projects, hazardous materials abatement projects and the State Pier project.
The redevelopment of State Pier – which sits a few miles upstream from the mouth of the Thames River – involves dredging the surrounding riverbed and filling in the space between two existing piers to create a much larger area with upgraded heavy-lift capacity.
The new pier will be used to construct and stage wind turbines for Revolution Wind, Connecticut’s first offshore wind farm, as well as South Fork Wind and Sunrise Wind. Backed by a joint venture of Eversource and the Danish wind energy company Ørsted, the three projects will collectively provide enough clean energy to power more than one million homes in Connecticut, Rhode Island and New York.
For New London Mayor Michael Passero, the State Pier project represents “the first real opportunity for this harbor and that pier to be successful,” promising a slew of new jobs and economic stability for New London’s next generation of residents.
But over the past few years, delays, rising costs and claims of impropriety at the Connecticut Port Authority have tarnished the project’s shine.
In 2019, Diamantis was designated as the Lamont administration’s “point person” for the project, heading a team composed of OPM and Department of Administrative Services employees that “oversaw the procurement and construction activities and awarding of contracts,” David Kooris, chairman of the Connecticut Port Authority – a quasi-public agency that oversees the state’s ports – said in a statement.
“The thinking at the time was, he’s probably the most experienced in construction management in the administration, so adding the pier duties to his other duties seemed to make sense,” state Sen. Paul Formica, an East Lyme Republican, said of Diamantis. “But I guess there’s been some question as to how he conducted business.”
During a February 2020 press conference in which Lamont announced a final agreement on the harbor development plan, he painted a vision of a “a world-class port for the next hundred years” in New London. Referencing Diamantis, he said, “Now Kosta’s got to deliver the goods.”
Diamantis assured the crowd that the project would be on time and on budget.
“I’m very familiar with this particular project,” he said. “It’s a $157 million dollar project. There are no overruns in this project.”
But the project estimates continued to grow, rising from an initial estimate of $93 million to $235.5 million. Meanwhile, delays in obtaining required permits pushed the project deadlines further back.
“We were all very concerned about what was going on because we felt the oversight was not there and the costs were exploding,” state Sen. Cathy Osten, a Sprague Democrat, said of the project. “It seemed like every six months there was an increase in cost.”
Other issues abounded. At the start of the redevelopment project, Passero said that he initially felt “betrayed” by agreements between the Port Authority and other companies over the State Pier, which left New London in the dark.
“That was at the height of when the Port Authority had been operating in secret,” he said. “A lot of the trouble they’re in now stems from the actions taken then. The city was one of the victims.”
Eventually, though, Passero secured a host community agreement with Ørsted and Eversource, in which the city will receive $750,000 per year over a seven-year period.
As far as the federal investigation into Diamantis, Passero said he does not expect it to stall the project, saying, “Nobody really knows what they’re fishing for.”
Kooris said that the Connecticut Port Authority had not been contacted by, or received any requests for documents from, the U.S. Attorney’s Office investigating Diamantis.
Yet the Connecticut Port Authority has also been under increased scrutiny recently, following a report released from the State Contracting Standards Board alleging that the Port Authority did not have the authority to enter into a public-private partnership for the pier redevelopment and has “no accountability or transparency measures in place” for its procurement policy.
“We’re extremely disappointed in questionable dealings with the Connecticut Port Authority and possibly some school projects,” state Rep. Anthony Nolan, a New London Democrat, said, referencing school projects that Diamantis was involved in overseeing.
Legislators representing the region said last week that as the State Pier project develops, they are keeping a close eye on the Connecticut Port Authority, in light of past issues.
“I am a proponent of offshore wind,” Formica said. “I am an opponent of the shenanigans going on at the Port Authority.”
Following the release of the report from the State Contracting Standards Board, state Sen. Heather Somers, a Groton Republican, blasted the Port Authority, questioning “why a quasi-public entity cannot follow its own procedures” and noting that the organization has had longstanding issues with transparency.
“This is more than just not following simple procedures,” she said in a statement. “This is about a few individuals entrusted with millions of taxpayers’ money, making crucial decisions which have long-term impact on our region and entire state.”
Proponents of the project say that the redevelopment of State Pier still holds great potential to bolster the Connecticut shoreline, positioning it to be at the forefront of renewable energy ventures in the Northeast. The only question is whether that vision can be executed.
“None of us are concerned about the mission of the project; we believe in wind energy,” Osten said. “We want to make sure it’s done right because it will impact a whole region.”
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