Boaters, Amtrak span early impasse

East Lyme A few months ago, the boating community was at odds with Amtrak over channel closures related to the replacement of the Niantic River Bridge, but that tune has changed.

"We're playing well together in the sand box," said Don MacKenzie, general manager of Boats Inc., about boaters, Amtrak and the U.S. Coast Guard. "There's been some good dialogue going back and forth."

Frustrations between the groups spilled over at a meeting in April when the Coast Guard asked the boaters and fishermen for a reasonable time when the channel can be closed to accommodate the construction. The Coast Guard said the contractor, Cianbro/Middlesex VII, needs to use barges in the Niantic River for five hours a day four days a week from May to October.

No one at the meeting offered any possible times. Some said they felt misled because of a press release by Amtrak in January stating that the Niantic River would remain open to boaters throughout construction.

The replacement of the 102-year-old moveable span will take an estimated three years. Construction has already started.

After a meeting a few weeks later, though, temporary channel closures were agreed upon until May 22, after which the group - boaters, fishermen, town officials, the Coast Guard and Amtrak - will re-evaluate how the closures are going and set up a new time line for the remainder of summer.

No schedule for channel closures has been announced since then. Only once, on May 11, did Amtrak request and receive permission from the Coast Guard to close the channel.

"Things have been going smoothly," MacKenzie said. "Everyone's happy."

In an effort to communicate better with those affected by the bridge replacement, Amtrak has been posting channel-closure information on its website for more than a month.

"We are pleased to be able to now serve as a source for real-time channel-closure and project-specific information on the Niantic Bridge Replacement Project, both on our website and through ongoing dialogue with the boating community," Amtrak spokesman Cliff Cole said. "We will continue to work with the U.S. Coast Guard and local elected officials to fulfill our commitment to communicate our progress on this vitally important project."

The $104.7 million project will lead to the construction of a two-track bridge south of the present alignment, the expansion of the navigation channel beneath the bridge, the realignment of the east and west track approaches, the relocation of the boardwalk and the restoration of the beach.

a.renczkowski@theday.com

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