Small Connecticut harbors feel squeezed out by deep ports

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NORWALK, Conn. (AP) – City harbor officials in Norwalk- and their counterparts along the coastline -are worried about being left behind when the new Connecticut Port Authority begins its mission to restore the state’s deep water ports.

“The (port authority) legislation has given rise to more questions than answers,” said John Pinto, a member of the Norwalk Harbor Management Commission and president of the Connecticut Harbor Management Association.

Pinto said harbor officials from Mystic to Greenwich are worried they will lose traditional funding for dredging and other improvements if the port authority focuses on revitalizing the state’s mostly dormant ports in Bridgeport, New Haven and New London.

“I’m all for coordination, but it can’t just be Bridgeport, New Haven and New London,” Pinto said. “The greater value is coming from the small ports. This is a rich coastal state and they can’t forget about the harbors.”

The worry comes as the statewide port authority, authorized by the General Assembly in 2014, begins to show signs of life. The authority has held meetings this year and is methodically moving toward overseeing, promoting and improving the state’s deep water ports and Connecticut’s $7 billion maritime industry.

“I’m hoping they do the right thing,” Pinto said, adding small harbors provide valuable infrastructure, such as boat slips, marinas and fishing docks.

Nancy DiNardo of Trumbull, a former state Democratic Party chairwoman and newly appointed member of the port authority, said no one intends to ignore small harbors.

“It’s a concern of everyone and there is no intention of ignoring them,” DiNardo said. “We do talk a lot about the big three (ports). The issue there is dredging. Our intention is not to leave anyone out.”

The port authority’s mission, according to its website, is to “coordinate port development, focusing on private and public investments” and “pursue state and federal funds for dredging and other infrastructure improvements and maintain navigability of all ports and harbors.”

Connecticut has 26 coastal harbors on Long Island Sound and 10 harbors accessed by rivers.

The port authority has held three meetings so far this year and a 15-member governing board is in place, consisting of state officials, community leaders, port authority professionals and individuals within the marine transportation industry.

Recent agendas show the authority is focused on hiring an executive director and signing memorandums of understanding with state agencies traditionally responsible for funding harbor and port improvements.

Officials close to the authority said its budget is up in the air. A roughly $400,000 initial spending plan for the port authority was cut in half as alternate state budgets were offered over the last weeks to close a $1 billion state deficit next year and similar overrun this year.

The Legislature last week failed to adopt a new state budget and plans to meet in special session next week to approve a brokered spending plan, leaving the port authority in limbo in terms of funding.

Pinto said it’s been difficult to discern what the port authority intends to do regarding small and mid-sized harbors.

“The CHMA believes that all harbors should be able to apply and compete equally for state dredging funds,” Pinto said.

“Harbor management commissions throughout the state are concerned that when this funding program is eventually transferred to the port authority, it may no longer be available to harbors,” Pinto said, adding small harbors are not eligible for federal dredging money because they are not commerce-based.

Scott Bates, a Stonington resident and chairman of the port authority, said harbors and the deep water ports are integral to the state’s economic growth, and promised the port authority will continue funding harbor dredging while investing in the deep water ports.

“If we are to succeed, we have to have everyone’s strengths, and market the ports and harbors to the outside world,” Bates said. “A maritime strategy for the state has to include harbors and ports.”

Bates added “This kind of investment is essential. You have to create economic development to provide revenue for education and social services. There is no better investment in the state’s future.”

He said he intends to reach out to local harbor commissions and other officials to hear their concerns and explain the port authority.

DiNardo said concern over small harbors was brought up during confirmation hearings earlier this year for port authority members. She said she assured legislators the port authority intends to also focus on helping the harbors.

“That was a concern of mine,” DiNardo said, referring to the possibility that harbors would be left out. “The intention is to not leave them out.”

DiNardo also she’s not aware of any plan to eliminate the traditional role of local harbormasters who help manage harbors and assist boaters.???


Information from: Connecticut Post,

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