This story has been updated.
The Connecticut Port Authority is preparing to ask the state for more money to redevelop the State Pier in New London, despite promises last year that taxpayers would not need to contribute any additional funding for the multimillion-dollar infrastructure project.
David Kooris, the chairman of the CT Port Authority, told Hearst Connecticut Media in a recent interview that he expects the overall price tag on the roughly $255 million project to increase one more time and that the authority was likely to seek at least some of that money from Gov. Ned Lamont and state lawmakers.
Kooris told Hearst that the Port Authority was also likely to ask for additional funding from Ørsted and Eversource, the two private energy companies that intend to use the State Pier as a launching point for new offshore wind turbines.
“We expect one more increase, and we’re working through that with our contractors,” Kooris said in the interview with Hearst. “We hope to be in a position to finalize things in the coming weeks and months, you know, by the end of February. I think what we can say at this point is, we know whatever else that we may ask the legislature for is going to have to go hand in hand with an additional commitment from our private partners.”
Kooris and other officials at the Port Authority disclosed during several board meetings last year that the project continued to face unforeseen delays due to problems with driving large steel pilings at the construction site, which sits at the mouth of the Thames River.
But the Port Authority’s leadership gave no indication until this week that it was considering asking the State Bond Commission to borrow more money for the project, which has struggled with numerous cost overruns and schedule delays.
The last time Kooris came before the State Bond Commission last year, he assured state leaders that no other state funding would be necessary to finish construction and commence operations at the State Pier.
Rep. Holly Cheeseman, one of two Republican lawmakers on the Bond Commission, asked Kooris during that meeting to swear on the lives of his family members that the Port Authority would not need any additional financing.
At the time, Kooris joked that his daughters wouldn’t appreciate him making that vow, but he promised that he would not appear before the bond commission again.
It’s unclear at this point how much money the Port Authority needs in order to finish the work on the State Pier.
Andrew Lavigne, the Port Authority’s Manger of Special Projects, told the CT Mirror the final cost will be contingent on the outcome of negotiations with the contractors on the State Pier project.
It will also hinge on the negotiations between the Port Authority and Eversource and Ørsted, which first announced their partnership in 2019 when the pier was being advertised as a $93 million project.
Cheeseman, who represents East Lyme, said she is deeply frustrated that the Port Authority is now signaling that it plans borrow more money for the project.
“I am disappointed,” she said. “I am shocked and horrified on the part of the Connecticut taxpayer, because we had an assurance that there would be no more state funds put into this project.”
There were signs last fall that the Port Authority was in a difficult position financially, as the work stretched on and construction crews continued to encounter problems at the site.
In October, the Port Authority’s board voted to pull several million dollars out of an account that was set aside to fund future operating expenses in order to bankroll the ongoing construction costs at the pier.
Cheeseman said she and other lawmakers viewed that decision as a desperate move to keep the project alive without asking for additional money from the Bond Commission.
But she hoped it was the last financial maneuver the Port Authority would need to finish the project.
It became clear this week that was not the case.
One of the biggest complaints that critics have had about the project is the amount of funding that Eversource and Ørsted have contributed to the redevelopment effort, as the cost of the project nearly tripled over the past two years.
At last count, the state dedicated roughly $178 million to the project, while Eversource and Ørsted offered up roughly $77.5 million.
Bob Stefanowski, the Republican candidate for governor, specifically complained about that cost sharing arrangement while campaigning against Lamont last fall.
Had he been governor, Stefanowski claimed he would have required Eversource and Ørsted to pick up a larger portion of the cost since the companies will be two of the primary beneficiaries of the project.
Stefanowski isn’t the only one who espoused that view.
During a meeting last October, David Pohorylo, one of the Port Authority board members, publicly questioned whether the two energy companies were contributing enough to the project considering how much they stand to benefit financially from the pier over the next decade or more.
“They’re the ones to truly benefit from all of this money that we are putting into it,” Pohorylo said during the board meeting.
“I’m a taxpayer too,” he added. “I’ve got a dollar or two of my money in this project along with everybody else. So I’m hoping for the best, but let’s be honest with what we are looking at.”
Kooris responded to Pohorylo’s concerns by arguing that the state also stands to benefit from the long term investment in the upgraded pier, which will continue to be managed as a state-owned property.
“I’m confident this is a sound investment for the state and will create return for generations,” Kooris told his fellow board members.
Even so, the Port Authority and Lamont’s administration now seem poised to ask Eversource and Ørsted to commit more private money to the State Pier.
Officials at the Port Authority declined to answer questions about exactly how much money the agency is asking Eversource and Ørsted to contribute.
But Lavigne, the Port Authority’s special projects manager, said those details were being discussed in negotiations.
The Lamont administration was just as vague when asked about the situation, but in a statement, the governor’s office indicated that they were hoping for the two companies to offset part of the rising cost of the project.
“At this time, the Office of the Governor hasn’t received a request from the Port Authority, but any potential action should include our partners,” Adam Joseph, Lamont’s Director of Communications, said.
The CT Mirror asked Eversource and Ørsted this week whether the Port Authority has already approached the companies about increasing their share of the project cost.
But they too declined to answer specific questions about how much money the state is asking the companies to pay or whether the companies will agree to revise their current contract with the state.
“We believe in the strategic and economic importance of transforming State Pier into a state-of-the-art, heavy-lift marine terminal able to serve Connecticut with a broader range of industries, cargo types, and vessels,” the companies wrote in a joint statement.
“As the project progresses, we will continue to work, as we have always done, with the State of Connecticut and the Connecticut Port Authority to provide flexibility and support where necessary and practicable to achieve the port’s successful redevelopment,” they added.
If the companies and the state can reach a new deal, they will need to do so quickly.
Under the current plan, the pier is expected to be “substantially completed” by late next month. And ships are supposed to start arriving in New London as early as May to begin transporting the large wind turbines into the Atlantic Ocean.
Officials at the Port Authority said the agency is still on track to meet those deadlines.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that part of the $77.5 million that Ørsted and Eversource have paid for the State Pier project included rent payments for the new pier. Rent is not included in that total.