Cruise ship effort may get funding and other help

The state legislature's Commerce Committee is recommending that as much as $75,000 be funded to help the Connecticut Cruise Ship Task Force lure cruise ships here.

Sen. Gary LeBeau, D-East Hartford, and co-chairman of the Commerce Committee, sent the bill to the Appropriations Committee, where some or all of the $75,000 may be recommended for approval, Sen. Andrew Maynard, D-Stonington, said Friday.

"This is such a good thing for the New London area, I want to make sure we don't blow it," LeBeau said earlier this week.

The task force attracted a cruise ship twice last fall to New London Harbor, but the year before that could not bring in any, even though nine cruise ships visited in 2008 and seven came in 2007, according to George Cassidy, the task force's executive director.

The port has struggled in part because of a push by Canada to lure ships away from the East Coast ports, he said. Other testimony indicated the Jones Act, ultimately not passed, deterred cruise line bookings here over the past two years because it would have required a 48-hour stay in a foreign port between visits to U.S. ports.

The lack of state funding support was also a factor, stated Cassidy, who visits cruise lines and tries to negotiate visits.

A Stonington-based trade group known as the Connecticut Maritime Coalition, however, believes it could lure cruise lines here without using any taxpayer money. The coalition is a nonprofit business association that works to keep Connecticut's maritime industries competitive.

"We are the deep-water industry," said Chairman David Pohorylo. "We selfishly would like to get business back because it means more business to us."

He said the group is not trying to take over the state's cruise ship operation, but added that state funding should be dedicated only to efforts to attract the cruise lines and not be used to fund welcome operations on the ground.

The task force is capable of doing the job on its own, said task force Chairwoman Joyce Resnikoff.

"We have a record, and we're standing on our record," she said. "We have delivered."

LeBeau and Maynard said collaboration between the two groups may be possible.

"As a member of the task force and chairman of the (state's) Transportation Committee," Maynard said, "I'm certainly eager to maximize any collaborative effort, but it would be a policy decision of the task force."

p.daddona@theday.com

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