Published February 21. 2014 4:00AM
As the euphoria dies down following Wednesday's signing of a Memorandum of Agreement expressing the "mutual intent and shared goals" of the city, state and Coast Guard in working to build a National Coast Guard Museum on the New London waterfront, the sobering reality sets in that the real work now begins.
We offer this perspective not to dampen enthusiasm about this project, which this newspaper strongly endorses as both a means of recognizing the Coast Guard's rich history and revitalizing the downtown. Rather, the intent is to point out that city, state and federal elected officials will need to work effectively together and with all parties to address the challenges and problems that are sure to come.
Overconfidence in this instance could prove perilous.
Recall that a decade ago the city experienced a bitter fight about a plan to construct a bridge to carry pedestrians over the railroad tracks and catenary wires to the Cross Sound Ferry property. The owners of Union Station opposed the plan that included seizing part of their property. New London abandoned the project in 2005.
While Union Station co-owners Barbara Timken and Todd O'Donnell endorse the museum concept, it is a mistake to conclude the bridge issue is over. Project planning must address this touchy subject as well as Amtrak's involvement.
A letter filed last July by an attorney for New London Railroad Co., LLC - the business listing for Union Station - requests that the state Department of Economic and Community Development pursue a comprehensive evaluation of the museum's pedestrian overpass pursuant to the Connecticut Environmental Policy Act. The provision kicks in because Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has vowed to provide $20 million in state funding for the pedestrian connection.
Language in the lawyerly letter will be familiar to those who witnessed the prior bridge fight.
"The close proximity of the footbridge will negatively impact the appearance of the station and may obliterate the visibility and historical setting of the north edge of the station," it states, noting the bridge could rise 30 to 40 feet.
The train station, built in 1887, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
"The impact of the proposed use of Union Station will be severe," contends the letter from attorney James D. Masterman, a property rights specialist with the major law firm of Greenberg Traurig, headquartered in Boston.
"Increased traffic, crime, safety hazards, noise, pollution, alterations to the aesthetics of the waterfront, and changes to recreational activities all have the potential to negatively impact business" and potentially "discourage regular commuters, bus and rail passengers from using the station."
It asks that the environmental review include all reasonable alternatives and indicates that architects have looked at four locations for the pedestrian bridge and "a tunnel had at one point been considered."
The challenge will be finding a solution that satisfies both the Union Station owners and Cross Sound. A pedestrian bridge is integral to Cross Sound's plans to build a ferry terminal on land it expects to purchase from the city, which in turn is tied to its support for the museum project location.
In a Jan. 26, 2012 letter to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, Cross Sound President John P. Wronowski said his company could not support the museum location, stating it "has the serious potential to harm existing ferry operations by obstructing navigation" and "blocking the line of sight down the river for departing and returning ferries."
It was only after the state sweetened the deal with the pedestrian bridge that Cross Sound joined the museum parade. It is interesting to note neither Cross Sound nor Union Station were signatories to the Memorandum of Agreement.
Mr. O'Donnell said the intent in asking for a comprehensive state review is to make sure the project is done right, providing the greatest benefit to the city while mitigating negative impacts as much as possible. Whether something is done right is, of course, a matter of opinion.
Planning and negotiations can overcome many challenges, but it is probably naïve to think that there is only smooth sailing ahead.