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No movement on CGA expansion plans

By Jennifer McDermott

Publication: The Day

Published January 18. 2012 4:00AM   Updated January 18. 2012 7:15PM

New London - The mayor and the superintendent of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy met for the first time Tuesday to talk about how they might work together, but they did not reach an agreement on the topic that prompted the discussion: the academy's need to expand.

The two spoke only briefly about the fact that the academy has reached capacity at its current site. They said more comprehensive talks about what options are available to the academy will be handled by their staffs.

"The dialogue was more about establishing where we go from here, how we can work together cooperatively," New London Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio said as he left the superintendent's office at the academy.

Academy Superintendent Rear Adm. Sandra L. Stosz said there is plenty of time for staffers on both sides to research potential sites and make recommendations.

In November, city residents narrowly defeated a proposal to sell a portion of the adjacent Riverside Park to the academy for expansion. Finizio, as mayor-elect, announced before the results of a recount that he considered the contract null because the date on the sales agreement had passed.

Finizio would not say Tuesday whether selling any part of Riverside Park is out of the question. He has said there are options within the city for an academy expansion, but he did not discuss the details.

"We want to make sure any dialogue moving forward is open-ended and in good faith, and that any and all options can be discussed fairly by all parties," the mayor said.

In a visit to the academy earlier this month, Commandant Adm. Robert J. Papp Jr. said that, if necessary, the Coast Guard would consider moving some of its programs elsewhere. Finizio wrote a letter to Papp the next day, Jan. 6, to say he was open to discussing the academy's needs. Papp told Finizio that Stosz would represent the Coast Guard in the matter.

Officials in Norwich also have asked to talk with the superintendent. They plan to suggest the Shipping Street former industrial district as a possible site for a Coast Guard facility.

In Norwich Tuesday night, the City Council tabled until Feb. 21 a resolution that supports locating any Coast Guard Academy expansion and the national Coast Guard museum in New London "or in such other alternative locations in New London County as may be feasible." Council President Pro Tempore Francois "Pete" Desaulniers suggested tabling the resolution until after Mayor Peter Nystrom and other city officials meet with Stosz Feb. 13.

But Stosz said Tuesday that expanding onto a contiguous piece of property is "really the only reasonable option" for logistical and security reasons. She said she has not spoken with anyone at neighboring Connecticut College about expansion. The academy's options are limited since it is flanked on the west by Route 32 and on the east by the Thames River.

The academy is not going to move, Stosz said, but the service has grown considerably since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks and now the school needs to expand.

Finizio said that the city understands the academy's needs and that there have been internal discussions with staff members to prepare them to talk to Coast Guard representatives.

The mayor's meeting with Stosz, scheduled for 30 minutes, lasted an hour. His chief administrative officer and executive assistant accompanied Finizio to the academy but did not sit in on the meeting.

Stosz and Finizio, who previously had spoken briefly only once, said they discussed ways the city can be more involved with the academy, past collaborations between the two sides, and the upcoming OpSail2012, which is expected to draw tall ships from around the world to New London. Stosz also said she would like to see more local students attending the academy.

"This is a historic moment," Stosz added. "The Coast Guard Academy has been here for over 100 years and this is our very first meeting with New London's first elected mayor. It's a great opportunity for us to move forward during our terms, mine as superintendent and the mayor as mayor."

j.mcdermott@theday.com

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