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Stymied by state, moving company moves on

By Lee Howard

Publication: The Day

Published December 11. 2012 4:00AM
Bid to open branch in North Stonington dropped by firm's Rhode Island owner

A Rhode Island moving-company owner whose application to do business in Connecticut was denied earlier this year by the state Department of Transportation said Monday he has decided to expand farther into Massachusetts instead of opening a branch in North Stonington.

Bob Romano, owner of Warwick, R.I.-based Coutu Bros. Movers, said bureaucratic snafus, additional paperwork requirements and the attitude of DOT staff members finally sealed his decision to pull out of a hearing scheduled in January to have his original application reconsidered.

"It was strictly a business decision," Romano said in a phone interview. "I was not going through all that crap again."

A DOT hearing officer denied Romano's first application to do in-state business in Connecticut last spring, citing a possible "further negative effect" on other moving businesses in the region and saying that the Rhode Island company had not proven the need for another moving business based on "public convenience and necessity."

The DOT decision in May created a backlash among free-enterprise advocates, with Tony Sheridan, chief executive of the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut, among those promising to attend the next hearing to support Romano's application. Several local officials, including former Republican state Sen. Pierce Connair, a Mystic real estate agent who had been prepared to lease office space in North Stonington to Coutu Movers, pointed out that the DOT decision seemed at odds with Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's oft-stated promise that "Connecticut is open for business."

"We've got so many regulations we're putting ourselves out of business," Connair said Monday in a voicemail message. "I think it's a tragedy .... It's un-American."

But DOT spokesman Judd Everhart said trying to paint the agency's decision as anti-business was a canard.

"The original denial was based on existing requirements, i.e., that the applicant must demonstrate that there is a need for additional household goods moving services in a specific geographical area of the state," Everhart said in an email. "It had nothing to do with Connecticut not being 'open for business' as the applicant claimed in the past."

Romano's original application had been opposed by two competitors, Atherton & Sons Moving & Storage in Pawcatuck and Barnes Moving & Storage in Mystic, whose owners cited a decline in their own businesses over the past few years. One of the businesses was planning to fight Romano's application again, but the DOT could not provide the information on which one had been intending to appear at a hearing in January.

Romano said he spent more $6,000 to comply with DOT requirements and was shocked to learn that his initial application was denied by Connecticut hearing officer Sheldon Lubin, whereas Massachusetts approved his application for a license to do business in only 15 minutes.

"It's a shame that free enterprise is not allowed to flourish in Connecticut," Romano said. "Massachusetts actually welcomed me and reached out to me to expand my operation there."

Romano said he spent $177 to reapply for a license to do business in Connecticut, and was at first heartened by the response at DOT. But things went down from there, he said, when the agency soon after told him that it had lost all the paperwork he had sent by certified mail (still managing to cash the check that was sent in the same mailing), then insisting on updated financials (because the DOT lost his packet of information) and then requesting other paperwork that had not been an issue in his initial filing.

"They were trying to upset you with every phone call," Romano said. "Dealing with that agency - I couldn't get over that fact."

l.howard@theday.com

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