Big Changes at the Pier
When the long warehouse and iconic water tower were demolished in 1995, the State Pier seemed to recede from public consciousness. The remaining flat surface, lying just a few feet above the water, suggested absence rather than presence, an ending instead of a beginning. But demolition of the superannuated warehouse, designed to last only 25 years, was necessary before the State could rebuild the Pier, having been persuaded to do so by Admiral Shear, The Day paper, and others.
Below: Ted Hendrickson's 1990s panoramic view of the Pier was taken from one of the last backyards of East New London (enlarge by clicking on the image).
In 1996 Logistec, a Montreal-based terminal operator, was appointed to run the State Pier. The company operates 34 ports and 60 terminals across North America and claims expertise in managing all types of cargo. In New London the company expected to ship forest products, small containers, and general cargo* in and out. Logistec website
*Note: “General cargo” refers to goods transported in one piece, whether in a barrel, crate, box, or on a pallet. It is also known as “break bulk” cargo. Break bulk ships are the oldest type of freighter on the seas today.
Since 1996 the CEO and President of Logistec has been Madeleine Paquin, well known in Canada as that country's 2014 CEO of the year. She was inducted into the International Maritime Hall of Fame by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey in 2017, among other awards.
Beyond its maritime services the company also offers solutions to environmental problems such as remediation of contaminated sites and issues with clean water supply.
During the Logistec years, steel and forest products (lumber, newsprint, pulp, etc.) have been the main cargo coming to New London, lumber being a staple since the 1930s.
SOMETHING NEW AND DIFFERENT AT THE MILLENIUM:
CRUISE SHIPS COME TO NEW LONDON!
The biggest news about the State Pier in the early 2000s was the dramatic appearance of the largest ships ever to enter the harbor. The Connecticut Cruise Ship Task Force led by Chamber of Commerce member George Cassidy persuaded Holland America, Princess, Regal and Royal Caribbean lines to add one-day New London stopovers to their East Coast itineraries. In 2001 the 640-passenger Regal Empress was the first to call, receiving a 14-gun salute on her way in, as The Day reported. (Photos below from the Internet)
The ships returned for a few years, as many as nine in one year, proving, if proof were needed, that the harbor was deep and wide enough to accommodate even such giants as the Explorer of the Seas, at over 137,000 gross tons the largest cruise ship in the world when launched in 2000. Holland America's Maasdam, familiar to travelers for her Boston-based Canadian Maritimes cruises, visited more than once.
The broad, open deck of the State Pier was a perfect location for tour buses to meet the disembarking passengers.
In 2010 Crown Princess of Princess Cruise Line stopped on an 11-day New England/Canada itinerary, the last of the big ships to call. The Cruise Ship Task Force disbanded in 2014 for lack of funds, but we have them to thank for initiating this colorful chapter of State Pier history, the first in which passengers were handled instead of cargo.
THE STATE COMMISSIONS (ANOTHER) STUDY
The State Pier Needs and Deficiencies Study was commissioned in 2011 from the consultants Milone & MacBroom, followed in 2015 by a detailed program for revitalization. The subject of the study was now the "State Pier Complex", an acknowledgement that the Central Vermont Pier (also called the Long Dock) would be integral to any comprehensive plan.
An aerial view included in the 2011 study shows how much of the area was occupied by what appears to be stored cargo shrouded for protection. It has been moved away from the deck of the State Pier awaiting transshipment.
Both piers are described in detail, along with the dimensions of the channels leading to them and the other buildings on the site. A few excerpts:
"The State Pier has two main berths, with water depths of 35 feet at Mean Low Water (MLW) at the eastern berth and 30 feet at the western berth...A new fender system on both sides allows vessels to berth close to the pier face thereby minimizing crane reaches."
Below: A rare instance when the eastern and western berths were both occupied, photographed before the demolitions of the 1990s.
"The State Pier received a major overhaul [starting] in 1993 including functional, structural and aesthetic improvements.
"Long Dock is also a finger pier, but is limited with respect to pier structure, berthing and utilization. A large amount of the pier structure is original, with ...structural deficiencies in portions.
"Long Dock and portions of its apron area currently support a number of shallow draft fishing vessels; however, the pier is available for cargo storage and can be used for additional berthing for limited length and draft commercial vessels.
"The federal channel, with a depth of 40 feet MLW and a width of 500 feet, and approaches are wide enough for vessels to utilize the water-sheet east of the State Pier Facility for a turning basin.
"The main work space on the apron [of the State Pier] is illuminated by a high-level pier lighting system installed in 2010. The apron is equipped with direct on dock rail ... that connects to upland warehouses and the interchange with the New England Central Railroad [successor to the Central Vermont].
The consultants were asked "to identify site-related and infrastructure repairs and improvements that would better position the facility to capture emerging East Coast shipping opportunities...
They concluded that "State Pier's niche among East Coast ports was to remain primarily a break bulk port capable of handling a variety of cargo types (lumber, paper pulp, salt, steel, etc.) but with future Marine Highway* container potential. State Pier should be operated as efficiently as possible and take advantage of its rail connections in order to expand its market reach. The facility needs to efficiently accommodate cargo movements, storage, and multimodal throughput to assure quick vessel turnaround times. Maximizing the flexibility of the port facility is the key to enhanced utilization."
*Marine Highway refers to an initiative by the U.S. Maritime Administration to promote greater use of our navigable inland waterways to reduce trailer truck traffic on the highways, its attendant wear and air pollution. Another goal of America's Marine Highway, to use its full name, is to improve the integration of water-based and "surface" transport. Below: MARAD map of the inland waterway system.
The consultants described the current state of the property, noting what is in good condition and pointing out problems such as the uneven land needed for cargo storage and the poor condition of the Long Dock. Quay walls would be rebuilt and the tracks extended onto the Pier (where they had been in the past) for conventional and rail-to-barge cargo operations. The east side would accommodate "American Marine Highway" vessels, the west side "ocean tugs, barges, coasters, and shallower draft vessels."
Rail infrastructure would be rebuilt to "expedite the movement of freight to and from the piers," the "handling of inbound and outbound trains," and if possible to handle double-stack railcars "so as to accommodate new types of business to and from destinations on Class 1 [railroads] which are currently unserved from the Port of New London."
Road access would need to be improved to eliminate the 90-degree right turn required to reach the piers, and major dredging would be required. The 345-foot "northwest quay" beyond the Long Dock would provide berthing for "the fishing fleet, other shallow draft vessels, tugs and small barges."
It was a tall order and would cost a great deal of money. The State had spent $30 million in the late 1990s to rebuild the State Pier and Logistec had been operating it with moderate success since 1996. The State was in poor financial condition, and further development of the Pier as outlined in the blueprint by Milone & MacBroom was not high on the State's agenda as long as ships arrived and left from time to time.
It took a startling proposal in 2019 to bring the State Pier up for public debate again, this time with an intensity rarely, if ever, seen in its history.