Fairfield County appears to be among the priorities of the Connecticut Port Authority (CPA), as Board Chairman Scott Bates is in the midst of a tour of the state’s seaside towns to develop a far-reaching plan of action.
“One of the charges of the Connecticut Port Authority is to develop a statewide maritime strategy,” Bates said. “I’m going to all 35 coastal communities in the state and meeting with their elected officials and whoever they want to bring to the table to hear about their challenges and see what they see as opportunities.”
He added that there will be “an intense focus on Fairfield County — there’s a tremendous opportunity to grow our community there. Our main role is to bring together a real public and private partnership to advance the economic interests of Fairfield County and all of Connecticut. The maritime sector’s potential has been far from realized.”
Among the Fairfield County towns Bates has visited so far are Fairfield, Darien, Greenwich, Norwalk and Bridgeport.
When the CPA, which has jurisdiction over all state harbors and ports, officially began operations last June, it said its primary responsibility would be marketing Connecticut’s three deepwater ports: New London, Bridgeport and New Haven.
County officials in the smaller towns have expressed relief that Bates is apparently not concentrating only on the larger communities.
“The formation of the new Connecticut Port Authority raised a number of questions in town … namely whether it would just be focusing on the Bridgeports, Stamfords and New Havens of the world,” Fairfield First Selectman Mike Tetreau said.
Fairfield maintains two public marinas: South Benson Marina, which accommodates approximately 600 boats and is adjacent to Penfield Beach, Fairfield’s largest public beach; and Ye Yacht Yard on Southport Harbor, which accommodates approximately 60 small boats and provides boat launch services to residents and access to moorings in Southport Harbor. Repairs to Ye Yacht Yard, which was significantly damaged during Superstorm Sandy, were completed in April.
Tetreau said that plans are afoot for Bates to attend one of Fairfield’s Harbor Commission meetings, usually held on the third Tuesday of each month. “We are very appreciative of his interest and conversation,” Tetreau said.
“It’s not too often that commissioners proactively seek a dialog, so to have Mr. Bates reach out to the coastal communities in Connecticut was certainly appreciated,” said Darien First Selectman Jayme Stevenson. In addition to herself and Harbor Master Tom Bell, Bates also met members of the town’s Advisory Commission on Coastal Waters and several volunteer committees.
Darien encompasses approximately 16.5 miles of the Long Island Sound coastline and maintains five harbors.
Of particular concern to the Darien community, Stevenson said, is the Five Mile River Watershed, which encompasses approximately 7,995 acres of land. Beginning at the northern border of New Canaan, it crosses the town center of that town and includes West Norwalk and the easternmost portion of Darien, before it terminates at the Five Mile River Harbor. Stormwater runoff and sediment from Five Mile River tributaries contribute both to pollution and flooding, she noted.
“We want safe water for recreation and for shellfishing, both commercial and recreational,” Stevenson said.
She characterized the Bates meeting as “basically a meet-and-greet,” adding, “I got the sense he’s trying to understand what the role of his agency will be. We look forward to future dialog with him.”
“I’ve seen that the waterfront is central to the quality of life in Fairfield County,” said Bates. “I’ve enjoyed meeting local leaders and will work to encourage regional cooperation and solutions. What we can do is ensure that waterways are clear for boat traffic. I think we can encourage small-business development in the boating industry, at marinas and even in promoting aquaculture and the seafood industry.”
He added that, with the CPA — signed into law in 2014 by Gov. Dannel Malloy — “for the first time in a long time, there is a group with statewide reach that can focus on and lead the development and implementation of a maritime strategy for the state of Connecticut.”
For all its ambitions, the CPA is still very much a work in progress. Until its June board meeting, the agency’s budget was an open question; Bates said it has now secured $1 million, with about $600,000 from revenue and $400,000 in an appropriation from the state legislature. The search for an executive director is ongoing; Bates said the CPA board hopes to have one in place by the fall.
The CPA’s governing board is composed of 15 voting members, including state officials, community leaders, port authority professionals and other individuals with expertise in trade, marine transportation and finance.
On July 7, a ceremony was held in New London to highlight the CPA, primarily the transfer of that town’s State Pier from the Connecticut Department of Transportation to the CPA. The State Pier, which is close in proximity to Interstates 95 and 395, the New England Central Railroad line, and Atlantic shipping routes, is expected to be a primary and permanent source of revenue to the CPA.