The State Bond Commission approved on Friday another $30 million in borrowing to support the Connecticut Port Authority’s State Pier redevelopment despite past assurances that the multimillion dollar infrastructure project would be completed without additional taxpayer support.
“You promised us that you would not be back here,” Sen. Henri Martin, R-Bristol, told David Kooris, the Port Authority’s chairman, during a pointed exchange. Martin was referring to statements Kooris made during a commission meeting last year, when the panel approved a separate, $20 million infusion of funds.
During Friday’s meeting, Martin summarized the New London-based project as plagued by delays and escalating costs. Had the redevelopment been a private sector operation, Kooris and his staff would have been dismissed, he said.
“Mr. Kooris, I would’ve fired you,” Martin said. “I don’t know if this project was over your head or not.”
Kooris pushed back against criticism from both Martin and Rep. Holly Cheeseman, R-East Lyme. Last year, at Cheeseman’s urging, Kooris swore “on the lives of those near and dear” to him that the authority would not request additional funding.
Kooris said he made those statements based on the best information he had available to him at the time but the project had since been met with unexpected challenges.
“We did encounter some unforeseen conditions that we weren’t anticipating,” Kooris said. “It’s largely due to what we call ‘deep obstructions.’ These are boulders or rockledge or peaks in bedrock that are 60, 70, 80 feet or more below the water line. We had done some probing… but we didn’t find everything.”
The ambitious redevelopment project involves expanding the State Pier and using the area to launch offshore wind turbines. The bill for the project was expected to be paid both by the state and two energy companies, Eversource and Ørsted North America.
When it was announced by Gov. Ned Lamont in 2019, the cost of the project was estimated at $93 million. As of Friday, the expected cost had swollen to more than three times that amount.
The governor defended both Kooris and the pier project during a press conference following the State Bond Commission meeting.
“It’s a very important investment for the state and everything that’s gone on over the last three years — I would do it again,” Lamont said. “It’s transformative for our state. Really from a transportation point of view, a port point of view, southeast Connecticut and the entire northeast, it’s going to be transformative.”
However, Lamont said he was unhappy with how the process has played out. Early cost estimates, made prior to Kooris’s tenure, were “ill-conceived” and created “false expectations,” Lamont said.
“We’ve been digging from that ever since,” he said. “I wish I had put David Kooris in there sooner because of the expertise he brought to the table to make sure we can get ahead of this.”
In addition to the $30 million approved by the Bond Commission, Kooris told the panel that the Port Authority had also received additional support from the private energy companies in order to finish the project.
“That brings their [Eversource and Ørsted] contribution to an improvement of a public facility to $100 million and that’s something that we’re pretty proud of,” Kooris said. “We’ve managed to get private entities to invest a third of the capital cost of upgrading the facility that we will own and operate for generations to come and we have a lifetime of years to recoup our investment.”