NEW HAVEN — New Haven Port Authority members Thursday were upset with a last-minute, secret amendment that takes power away from local port authorities and gives it to the state.
Spinning out of a fight in Bridgeport, language was inserted into a transportation bill that allows port authorities to modify their duties or property only with the written approval of the state transportation commissioner.
A move was under way in Bridgeport to disband its port authority because it was unable to deliver a feeder barge project or other development, according to some lawmakers, but it had been tabled for more discussion.
Confronted with this end-run around local power, however, the Bridgeport City Council is expected to hold a public hearing and then vote Monday to disband its port authority before Gov. M. Jodi Rell signs the bill.
An attempt to discuss the matter at a recent state Maritime Commission meeting was cut off, according to New Haven Port Authority Executive Director Judi Sheiffele.
The chairman of the state Maritime Commission, Joseph Riccio, is also the director of the Bridgeport Port Authority.
“This is going to do more harm than good,” John Russo, chairman of the New Haven Port Authority, said Thursday, as it puts the ports in a “political environment and not in a substantive get-the-job done environment.”
On another issue, city engineer Richard Miller said New Haven is still not getting a satisfactory answer from the state on its committment to finish work on Waterfront Street.
Miller said he was told that the Waterfront Street work qualified for federal stimulus funds, but was taken off the list because of the large amount of money already going to New Haven.
“We need an affirmation that the state is committed to this project. We don’t want it to get lost in the minutia of politics,” Miller said, who was concerned with the large number of retirements that could impact the state DOT.
A Providence and Worchester track now runs down Waterfront Street as an alternative to moving cargo by truck.
The only good news at Thursday’s meeting was the interest of the federal Maritime Commission in helping New Haven land money to finish the rail connection project.
Sheiffele said a representative of the federal agency offered to assist New Haven in its push for a Tiger transportation grant that is available for long-range projects, such as extending rail spurs to the private companies in the port, including those in the North Yard.
“The federal government is very focused on the intermodal issue,” Sheiffele said. There is $1.5 billion available in Tiger grants nationwide.
The port authority also expects to seek a security grant that would pay for fencing and cameras in the port.
By Mary E. O’Leary, Register Topics Editor