Agency helps Connecticut towns realize a long-time dream

By Jake Joy DLA Disposition Services

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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 Thames River.

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 Guard requirements.

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 discuss options.    

“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.