New London - Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio apologized to the head of the U.S. Coast Guard Friday for not reaching out sooner and to let him know that the city and its residents "love" the Coast Guard.
In a letter to Adm. Robert J. Papp Jr. seven weeks after city residents voted not to sell a portion of Riverside Park to the Coast Guard so the academy could expand, Finizio said the school is a "valued institution" in the city.
"I want to assure you that all options on how best to meet your needs are open for discussion and that I would enter into any such discussions in good faith," the letter states.
Finizio said he wrote the letter after reading Papp's comments Thursday in The Day in which the commandant said he had not heard from the new mayor and was interested in hearing his proposals on possible expansion plans.
Finizio said he had not contacted Papp because he thought he would "go through local channels first."
But CGA Superintendent Rear Adm. Sandra L. Stosz and Finizio have only spoken once, and only for about a minute, according to David M. Santos, the academy's communications director.
Finizio, then mayor-elect, called Stosz to tell her there would be a press conference about Riverside Park. He and Stosz did not talk about the issue and Stosz did not know Finizio was about to announce that the sale would not go through, Santos said.
They have a face-to-face meeting scheduled this month.
"The event later this month will be the first time they sit down for any kind of meaningful, significant amount of time," Santos said.
Finizio, who noted that he met recently with the regional coordinator for the General Services Administration, he characterized the talk with Stosz as a "very, very good conversation."
"She was open to working with the city and the city looks forward to working with the academy and the Coast Guard," he said. "It was a pleasant conversation and I'm looking forward to sitting down with her personally."
The academy has reached capacity at its current site along the Thames River, Papp said while visiting the school. The Leadership Development Center and a simulator used for training could perhaps be moved elsewhere to free up space at the academy, he added.
Papp also said he was looking at sites both in and outside of New London for the National Coast Guard Museum, which is supposed to be built in the city. He said he sensed during the Riverside Park deliberations that there is a constituency that views the Coast Guard, or the federal government, as intruding into city affairs and taking its property.
Finizio said "there is no animosity coming from my administration toward the Coast Guard and I do not personally believe there is any animosity from the people of New London toward the Coast Guard."
"We love the Coast Guard and we value their partnership in our community," he added.
The mayor said he heard from residents on both sides of the Riverside Park issue on Friday. "Obviously what I tell everyone is to relax," he said. "The administration is very level-headed. We're going to work with the Coast Guard. The city wants to be a partner with the Coast Guard and the Coast Guard wants to be a partner with the city.
"Admiral Papp's comments very much open the door to a good discussion."
It is now up to the Coast Guard, Finizio said, to determine whom the city should speak with and when.