Groton, Connecticut –
For more than half a century, the historic
Connecticut cities of Groton and New London have imagined a unified water
taxi-based attraction to draw visitors to their adjacent interest points along the
Dubbed the “Thames River Heritage
Park,” the plan would help visitors to shuttle conveniently between the eastern
and western banks and visit the forthcoming National Coast Guard Museum, USS
Nautilus, Submarine Force Museum, Fort Griswold Battlefield State Park and
other sites, according to public planning documents.
The park coalition said it used
temporary boats as a test run during the summer of 2014 and members were
encouraged enough by the resulting passenger numbers to pursue a long-term
solution. But the goal remained elusive.
“We haven’t given up on our search,”
Groton Mayor Marian Galbraith said back in April. According to the local Mystic
River Press, the effort was halted once again before summer after the lone
water taxi company that provided a project bid ultimately failed to meet Coast
A project board member with Navy ties caught
wind of the availability of some Navy utility craft stored in Virginia that
were being readied for disposition. Groton’s DLA Disposition Services’ site
supervisor Dennis Dowling met with local Navy officials and project members to
“We told them that we couldn’t show any
favoritism, but we helped them understand the process; we wanted to give them
the best chance possible to get the boats,” Dowling said of the longshot
acquisition. “We made sure they all knew that Groton would be way down the
42-day [reuse, transfer and donation] schedule.”
The four utility craft were finally
posted, and as expected, a law enforcement agency claimed them. Luckily for
Groton, however, the New Jersey-based police force that claimed the craft
ultimately decided to take a pass on two of the vessels after examination,
deciding they were not an ideal fit for their mission. The boats returned to
the donation cycle and eventually fell to Groton, who acquired them through the
Connecticut State Surplus Property office’s authority.
“Everyone we have worked with … has
been fabulous all along the way and has been enthusiastic about our success in
acquiring the boats,” said Galbraith.
“It was a pretty good team effort,”
Dowling said, citing the close communication between disposition personnel in
Battle Creek, Norfolk and Groton.
“The water taxi service
has always been seen as vital to the success of the park. Certainly, the
existing historical assets would still be open, but the park leverages them
into one cohesive park experience,” Galbraith said. “The park idea is actually
decades old. It never came to fruition because of the lack of a water taxi
service and a visitor center. We issued an earlier [contract] for an operator,
expecting someone to come forward with boats. We were unsuccessful. With the
arrival of the boats there is renewed interest from potential operators.”
The vessels are valued together at
about $275,000 and arrived in a New London boat yard via tractor trailer Nov.
30. According to Dowling, the boats are in “great condition, previously kept in
an environmentally-controlled space” and have completely rebuilt engines with
only a couple hours of use between them. After the engines are depreserved, the
city will conduct a marine survey to ensure Coast Guard standards are met and
contract operation of the water taxi service, Galbraith said.
The planning group’s goal is to have
the water taxis ready for operation during the 2016 summer tourist season. More
information on the project can be found at www.thamesriverheritagepark.org.