21st Century Shipping Terminal or Wind Turbine Staging Area - or Both?
In 2015 the consultants described requirements to upgrade the Pier Complex: developing almost 5,000 feet of deep-water wharfage and another 345 feet of wharfage for shallower draft vessels (e.g., fishing boats), and designating the entire waterfront for loading and unloading cargo.
It would be the ultimate realization of a concept that originated in the 1870s, became a reality in 1916, and was improved from time to time until 1995.
In 2019, however, an extraordinary proposal from a corporate partnership of regional electric utility Eversource and Orsted, a Danish renewable energy company, was announced by the Connecticut Port Authority:
The State Pier and Long Dock would be repurposed as a staging area where the huge components of wind turbines, their blades, towers and sea-bed foundations could be prepared for transport to new offshore farm sites. To create the flat area required, the harbor waters between the piers would be filled in.
The Connecticut Port Authority also terminated the contract with Logistec, awarding it to Gateway Terminal, operator of the Port of New Haven - a change which enlivened the debate about transparency in the work of the Authority.
Internet photographs of the Block Island wind farm offer a preview of the future of our coastal views - long a feature of Europe's offshore horizons and hilly inland regions.
A Big Question:
Can Traditional Shipping Co-exist with Wind Turbine Staging?
The New London Harbor Management Commission insisted in 2019 that the capacity for shipping operations should not be lost in the re-purposing of the State Pier Complex for wind turbine staging:
"While the near-term opportunities for economic benefits associated with the use of State Pier to support the off-shore wind-energy industry are recognized, the project should not diminish future port capabilities for docking, unloading and storage of diverse cargoes," nor should it "diminish future opportunities for use of existing rail connections."
The debate has continued on many fronts well into 2021, complicated by issues of "transparency" in the work of the Connecticut Port Authority.
An Op Ed in The Day in July, 2019, urged the public to get involved. Kevin Blacker was one of several critics who took up the cause, writing in a letter to the CT Examiner early in 2020 that State legislators and the public should read the 2015 Milone & MacBroom report to see how "a diverse, multi-use facility" could work.
While opponents have voiced environmental concerns, two issues that have captured the most attention are the displacement of the small fishing fleet that had tied up at the CV Pier for years (the Port Authority is reportedly looking for a new home) and a public protest over the displacement of a road salt company, with loss of jobs and difficulties for municipal publc works departments.
LOSS OF THE HISTORIC RAIL CONNECTION
As for the rail connection beween the piers and the national railroad system, the Port Authority now calls for removal of the existing tracks, rail being rarely used for Pier operations. The long absence of rail activity has removed this once basic component of New London's shipping operations from public awareness - despite the $12.8 million upgrade of the tracks from Willimantic to Massachusetts in 2019 and the expectation that the tracks to New London would receive a similar upgrade.
In its October 2020 permit application to the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, the Port Authority stated that "the Project" would continue to support "existing break bulk operations for steel, coil steel, lumber, copper billets, as well as other cargo."
But whether the wind project can co-exist with shipping is a big question. The application states that break bulk operations will only be possible for the three months that the wind project will not be in operation: December through February. Because the wind project is expeced to continue for ten years, with an option for an additional seven, traditional shipping would be severely restricted for a very long time.
The answer to the co-existence question is that we will not know until (a) the wind project is approved, and if it is (b) we see how many ships come to New London during the three-month windows when the wind project is dormant and the State Pier is available to commercial shpping.
Epilogue: The Human Dimension
This exhibition began with the personal ambitions of John Winthrop, Jr., New London's 17th century founder. We encountered the human dimension again in the story of East New London, and in the patriotic feelings of more than 36,000 visitors to the USS Constitution in 1931. We conclude with yet another instance: the dilemma of the displaced fishermen and scallopers whose livelihood depends upon a place to tie up and unload their harvest from the sea. The following photographs record one of the last times the 21st century scallop boat Chief tied up at the 19th century Central Vermont Pier.