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Connecticut Port Authority may merge with Airport Authority, chair says

David Kooris, the chairman of the Connecticut Port Authority, speaks to reporters after a tour of the State Pier project in New London in March 2022.
Andrew Brown
CT Mirror
David Kooris, the chairman of the Connecticut Port Authority, speaks to reporters after a tour of the State Pier project in New London in March 2022.

David Kooris, the chairman of the Connecticut Port Authority, announced Tuesday that state officials are discussing whether to fold the maritime agency into the Connecticut Airport Authority.

The announcement means there could be a potential merger between the Port Authority, which manages Connecticut’s harbors and deep water ports, and the Airport Authority, which oversees operations of Bradley International Airport and five other state-owned aviation facilities.

Kooris dropped the news about the merger talks at the end of a short emergency meeting of the Port Authority board, which was scheduled to discuss new hires at the maritime agency and hiring a financial auditor.

The Port Authority has come under fire in past years for questionable spending, ethics violations and other contracting practices.

A federal grand jury subpoenaed the Port Authority last year for several years of records related to its operations. The agency has also caught flak from lawmakers for the ballooning cost of renovating the State Pier in New London into a port capable of shipping offshore wind turbines into the Atlantic.

That construction project, which is now in the final stages, was marketed as a $93 million rebuild of the New London port in 2019, but the budget grew to more than $300 million this year after repeated cost overruns.

The issue of a potential merger was not noted on the Port Authority’s meeting agenda on Tuesday, but Kooris said he had already shared news of the talks with the other board members via email.

“Over the last several years, there’s obviously been a lot of conversation about the structure of the Port Authority, the future of the Port Authority,” Kooris said during the meeting. “One of those options that have been discussed over the years, as you will recall, is some sort of partnership with the airport authority, which has some commonality and much larger infrastructure in which we might be able to rely.”

Kooris told his fellow board members that he was sharing the news because he didn’t want them to be surprised when the airport authority board openly discusses the potential change at a meeting Wednesday.

“Conversations will certainly have to take place. A lot of details would need to be worked out, if we conclude that is the best option,” Kooris said. “But I do want to make sure folks are aware that conversation is taking place.”

Officials with the Connecticut Airport Authority said they were asked to consider a possible merger with the Port Authority by state political leaders.

“The Connecticut Airport Authority has been asked by the state to consider synergies with the Connecticut Port Authority. The CAA is currently reviewing details, and, until there is more clarity on the direction forward, there will be no further comment,”

Any merger between the two quasi-public agencies would likely require action by the Connecticut General Assembly.

Both agencies were formed through legislation passed in previous years. The Connecticut Airport Authority was created by lawmakers in 2011. And the Port Authority got its start in 2014 after the management of the state’s harbors and ports was transferred out of the state Department of Transportation.

Gov. Ned Lamont’s administration confirmed that they initiated the merger discussions because the Connecticut Port Authority is wrapping up the State Pier project in New London, and because the Airport Authority has “extensive administrative infrastructure and experience with transportation facilities.”

Chris Collibee, a spokesman for the Office of Policy and Management, the governor’s budget office, said those attributes would make the Airport Authority ideal for managing the state’s deep water ports.

“If the Governor decides to propose this initiative, then legislation will be proposed to the General Assembly for consideration in the next legislative session,” Collibee said.

The idea of merging the two entities did not come as a surprise to a state lawmaker who has been involved with the operations of the Port Authority in recent years.

Rep. Holly Cheeseman, R-East Lyme, said there have been discussions in her circles for years about whether the state needed to restructure the Port Authority. Those past discussions also included ideas about returning management and maintenance of the state’s ports to the Department of Transportation.

“I think there has been a desire from numerous parties to rethink what the future of the Port Authority is,” she said.

Cheeseman, who also sits on the State Bond Commission, said there has been a concern recently that the Port Authority lost sight of one of its primary jobs of marketing the state’s deep water ports when it began overseeing the renovation of the State Pier in New London.

“Is it actually accomplishing the goal for which it was created, which is marketing the state’s ports?” Cheeseman asked.

The public should get a better understanding of how a potential merger might work on Wednesday when the leaders of the Connecticut Airport Authority are set to meet.

Launched in 2010, The Connecticut Mirror specializes in in-depth news and reporting on public policy, government and politics. CT Mirror is nonprofit, non-partisan, and digital only.