Recommendations for Conn. ports released

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Connecticut's deep water ports in Bridgeport, New Haven and New London have been mired in an import slump for the past several years, but the decline can be turned around by expanding existing businesses and attracting new commerce, according to a study released Thursday.

The report commissioned by the state Department of Transportation says the volume of imports at the three ports has dropped by nearly 80 percent to just over 1 million tons a year since 2006, while exports have been climbing slightly toward 1 million tons a year.

The study's authors blame much of the decline on the phasing out of coal and the elimination of fresh fruit imports into Bridgeport. They also cited the loss of imports because of the real estate market collapse and the corresponding loss of demand for lumber, steel and other building materials.

Connecticut should work to retain and expand existing liquid and dry storage facilities, shipyards, ship repair companies and ferry services at the ports, develop more exporting of scrap metal and wood pellets and increase imports of lumber, cooper, steel and fresh food, according to the report by Long Beach, Calif.-based port and harbor adviser Moffatt & Nichol and Hartford-based consultant Beta Group.

"This report is an important tool to strengthen the economic potential of Connecticut's deep water resources," Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said in a statement. "Expanding business development and creating jobs are keys to economic recovery, and this study highlights ways we can support our maritime industries and effectively compete for limited federal resources."

The maritime industry in Connecticut fuels tens of thousands of jobs and $5 billion in economic activity, according to the Department of Transportation.

The report said Connecticut's deep water ports lack the key characteristics of 15 successful ports, including ready access to major metropolitan markets and adequate capacity to accommodate the largest ships.

"However, the state can identify local and niche cargo markets appropriate to one or more of its deep water ports," the report said. "The state can provide adequate financial resources to reach or expand those markets."

Malloy and state lawmakers approved legislation last year that set aside up to $1 million for the study and an additional $31 million for improvements to ports and marinas.