Connecticut’s State Bond Commission on Thursday approved another $20 million in borrowing to complete the redevelopment of New London’s State Pier, a project that has suffered delays and ballooning costs in the three years since it was announced.
The borrowing represented a small portion of the $338 million in general obligation bonding approved by the commission during its morning meeting. However, the additional swath of funding brings the harbor redevelopment project’s total public investment to more than $255 million, a far cry from the $93 million Gov. Ned Lamont first announced in 2019.
The redevelopment is an ambitious public-private project that includes funding from both Eversource and Ørsted North America to renovate the pier to support an offshore wind power station. Last week, it was even praised as a project to replicate by U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm.
However, Republican members of the bond commission wanted commitments during Thursday’s meeting that the panel would not need to approve more funding for the pier at a later date.
“Now we have, in my tenure on this commission, the third request for additional funding and I wonder if someone can offer some reassurance that this is the last time we are going to be asked to increase the funds for this project,” Rep. Holly Cheeseman, R-East Lyme, said.
Port Authority Board Director David Kooris was on hand to provide that reassurance. Kooris, who credited much of the cost overrun to delays and incorrect fiscal estimates, said the $20 million represented the final stage of state investment.
“The short answer is the project will be completed before the legislature even comes back in session next year in early 2023,” Kooris said. “We don’t have any further authorizations and so this is the final tranche of funding.”
Kooris told the panel he expected the project would be completed by the end of next February. Cheeseman said she had heard similar statements in the past and pushed for a more personal commitment.
“So can I accept, on the lives of those near and dear to you, that we won’t be hearing another request for additional funds?”
Kooris laughed. “My daughters would probably not be too happy with me using their names, but yes, all of the work is contracted. This final tranche is associated with the delays, which were unanticipated related to permitting… There may be some additional change orders, but we have a cushion within this final tranche of funding.”
Lamont acknowledged the multiple hikes in the project’s costs, saying “maybe I’m mad as hell that it’s gone from 150 to 250.” However, as the former head of a telecommunications company, he said he understood that delays impacted costs.
“That increase? You know, time is money. I try to explain that every time I’m here in the public sector and it does cost us every time there’s a delay, every time there’s a threatened lawsuit,” Lamont said.
The governor defended the project as positioning New London to benefit from an expanding wind power industry “and the possibility that southeast Connecticut can be a major hub for what we think will be an important new industry going forward.”
Still, lawmakers sought clarity on how the project ran so far over its initial cost estimates. Kooris said initial calculations failed to account for “soft costs” and contingencies. Even in its earliest stages, Kooris said the cost of the project should have been estimated at closer to $125 million than $93 million. He said the final $20 million was necessary if the project is to be completed.
“If we did not approve this today, we would not have the funding in place to complete the dredging associated with the project and that would prevent us from deepening the berth which is necessary for the first American-made offshore wind installation vessel,” he said.
Despite an outburst from a protester, who accused Kooris of lying and misleading the panel, the bond commission approved the new funding. Two members, Cheeseman and Sen. Henri Martin, R-Bristol, voted “no.”