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Coast Guard, city back on same page

By Sasha Goldstein

Publication: The Day

Published March 09. 2012 4:00AM   Updated March 09. 2012 12:24PM

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New London - Following months of uncertainty, the Coast Guard and the city have agreed to find a location within city limits for both the National Coast Guard Museum and future Coast Guard Academy expansion.

The locations of both projects seemed in jeopardy after Adm. Robert J. Papp Jr., the Coast Guard commandant, said in January that the academy would consider locations outside New London for the museum and expansion.

But Papp and Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio met in Washington, D.C., last week and "mutually agreed" that both goals could be realized within New London, according to a release Thursday from the mayor's office.

"New London loves the United States Coast Guard," Finizio said in the release. "Our city and the Coast Guard have been community partners for over a century. New London is proud to be the home of one of the nation's four military academies, as well as America's tall ship, barque Eagle."

Several city sites will be considered for the museum, the release says, and National Coast Guard Museum Association leadership will be in Washington later this month to discuss proposals with Coast Guard officials.

"I am very interested and committed to this National Coast Guard Museum project," Papp said in the release. "Mayor Finizio's pledge to work together on determining a location will help get this project back under way."

Academy expansion is not imminent because of funding issues, the release says, but once funding is available, the city "commits to working with the Coast Guard in good faith to support that expansion, within the City of New London."

The Coast Guard originally sought to purchase a portion of Riverside Park to use to expand its facilities, but that proposal was defeated in a November referendum. The Coast Guard was to pay $2.9 million for half of the 18-acre park, which sits on the Thames River next to the academy.

In a January interview, Papp, who at the time had yet to speak with Finizio, said he sensed during that process that there was a constituency that views the Coast Guard, or the federal government, as intruding into city affairs and taking its property. He said he wanted to "be sensitive" to that and was looking at sites both in and outside of New London for the future museum.

He also said that "there are certain functions that are here, within the walls of the Coast Guard Academy, that we could justifiably and reasonably look at moving to other locations."

Finizio responded to Papp's comments with a letter the next day, saying the city "loves" the Coast Guard and that the school is a "valued institution" in the city.

"I welcome the opportunity to work together on issues of mutual interest that will benefit both the city and the Coast Guard, and I look forward to a productive dialogue," Papp replied in a letter of his own.

Later in January, Finizio and Rear Adm. Sandra L. Stosz, the academy superintendent, met for the first time, to discuss strengthening the partnership between the city and the academy, both sides said.

As Valentine's Day approached, City Center District launched an "NL (heart) USCG" campaign, replete with banners, stickers and posters proclaiming the city's love for the Coast Guard.

Both Finizio and Stosz attended the campaign kickoff on Jan. 24 at Union Station, one site frequently mentioned as a possible location for the Coast Guard museum.

When Finizio announced a $12 million city budget shortfall Jan. 27, he mentioned the possible sale of city property. He wouldn't comment on any specific land or city property that might be sold, but two members of the Riverside Park Conservancy, a group created to preserve the park, said a political consultant for Finizio approached them about the possible sale of Riverside Park to address the budget crisis.

In January, officials from the city of Norwich approached Stosz to discuss Coast Guard Academy expansion possibilities in that city and, on Feb. 17, Stosz, Mayor Peter Nystrom, and other Norwich officials toured the former Shipping Street industrial district on the Thames River.

Last week, Finizio met with Papp in Washington and on Thursday, the mayor's office announced the agreement.

"Current fiscal constraints limit the Service's near term ability to support needed Academy expansion, but this commitment between Coast Guard leadership and the Mayor to cooperatively address future Academy expansion is encouraging," Stosz said in the release.

s.goldstein@theday.com

c.bessette@theday.com

Day staff writer Claire Bessette contributed to this report.

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