The State Bond Commission approved another $30 million Friday to redevelop New London State pier to support an offshore wind farm.
This marks the latest in a series of price increases for the $300 million-plus pier development, which originally was priced at $93 million in 2019 when state officials launched the project.
And it comes one year after the chairman of the Connecticut Port Authority had assured the 10-member bond commission there would be no more cost overruns for state government to clean up.
“It’s a very important investment for the state,” Gov. Ned Lamont, who chairs the bond commission, said immediately after the meeting. “And everything that’s gone on the last three years — I would do it again. It’s transformative for our state.”
Connecticut consumers pay some of the highest electricity rates in the nation, and Lamont said the state must find alternative forms of affordable energy soon.
The pier project and the wind farm that is being developed by the state’s private-sector partners, Eversource and Ørsted North America, also has encouraged more housing development in New London, one of the state’s poorest cities.
“That said, am I happy with the way the process has worked out? No,” Lamont added. “I think some players put out some numbers early on that were ill-conceived, poorly thought out, didn’t take into account contingencies and put in place false expectations.”
But the two Republicans on the bond panel, Rep. Holly Cheeseman of East Lyme and Sen. Henri Martin of Bristol, said pouring additional funds into this project simply isn’t fair to the taxpayers.
“I would be less frustrated if I had not sat at this very commission and heard time after time — I believe three or four — requests for additional funding,” Cheeseman said. “I wish someone … had had the honesty to admit that we as a state had never tackled a project this large.”
Cheeseman, who along with Martin cast the lone dissenting votes on the additional financing for the state pier project, added there needs to be greater transparency and accountability demanded of all quasi-public agencies, not just the port authority.
“I think this project has been pretty much a disaster from the very beginning,” Martin told Lamont and port authority Chairman David Kooris.
“I guess my trust factor and my belief factor in your numbers, coming here multiple times now, has diminished considerably,” Martin added to Kooris. “I think most in this room would confirm that, if this was a private-sector project, all by itself, that you … would not have a job today.”
But Kooris did not chair the authority until July 2019, months after the original $93 million estimate had been provided.
He also told the bond commission last year that following a later review of the original cost projections, he determined it had failed to include all contingencies and “soft costs.” The latter typically includes architectural and engineering fees, permitting and legal expenses and other costs not directly associated with physical work.
Kooris added that the most recent cost hike stems from “some unforeseen conditions” tied to the dredging of New London harbor. These include boulders and rock ledge found more than 60 feet below the water line. Some of these “deep obstructions” had to be excavated or drilled out, he added.
The port authority announced the latest cost overrun on May 30, a $47 million jump from the $255 million bottom line that had been set in May 2022. The state and its private partners each would cover half, or $23.5 million of the cost overrun.
Connecticut is paying about two-thirds of the more than $300 million total cost.
The $30 million approved by the bond commission includes the state’s latest share, plus another $6.5 million for contingencies, which Kooris again said likely represents the last request for supplemental funding.
Kooris, who had been Lamont’s deputy director of economic development when the governor appointed him to lead the embattled port authority, currently is president of Stamford Downtown, a business improvement district.
But Lamont praised Kooris’ handling of the troubled project that he inherited.
“I hired David Kooris and I’d hire him again,” the governor said.
The bond commission has sole authority to determine which bond authorizations recommended by the legislature will be eligible to actually receive financing. The commission includes Lamont’s budget director, the head of the Department of Administrative Services, four leaders from the legislature’s Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee, and the attorney general, comptroller and treasurer.
In other business Friday, the bond commission also approved:
- $185 million for upgrades to highways, bridges and facilities for bus and rail service;
- $62 million for new research and laboratory equipment and various maintenance and code compliance projects at regional state universities and community colleges;
- $20 million for a first-time homebuyer assistance program;
- $15 million for upgrades to state parks;
- $4.9 million for renovations to the state Capitol complex including improvements to hearing rooms and to the skywalk at the Legislative Office Building;
- And $5 million for grants to community health centers and to providers of mental health and substance abuse treatment services.