Sen. Murphy tours Norwich sites targeted by city officials for federal dollars

Norwich — U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy made a brief visit to Norwich Tuesday to hear Mayor Deberey Hinchey's priorities should federal support be steered toward the city.

Murphy, D-Conn., and accompanying staff members joined several city officials on a brief van tour of key spots targeted for redevelopment or upgrades, including the sewage treatment plant and the Norwich Transportation Center on Hollyhock Island, a proposed new location for the city's boat launch on Shipping Street at the Thames River and the Howard T. Brown Memorial Park at Norwich Harbor, site of the current boat launch.

Funding to move the boat launch and federal support for a proposed upgrade of the New England Central Railroad were top requests expressed by Hinchey and city staff. Murphy's visit came one month after U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., heard similar requests from city officials on the railroad upgrade project.

The railroad line owner, Genesee & Wyoming Inc., is expected to apply for funding through the Transportation Investment in Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant program for the project. Murphy said he and U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, are aware of the pending application for the TIGER grant, but said it is unclear at this point whether the railroad company hopes the state would pay the matching share to accompany the federal grant. He said that could be "a weakness" in the highly competitive grant application.

Murphy added, however, that the railroad company might be waiting for Congress to reauthorize certain construction tax credits for short-line rail lines that expired last year.

Murphy said he and Courtney plan to meet with Genesee & Wyoming officials this week to discuss the TIGER grant application.

The upgraded freight rail line would help some of the city's largest industrial plants, especially U.S. Foods, located directly on the line, and the Freeport McMoRan copper plant nearby.

The railroad line also runs past the Norwich Transportation Center. City officials hope the upgrade railroad eventually could accommodate passenger service.

Murphy asked city officials what regional bus services run through the transportation center. Other than the Southeast Area Transit, there are none, city leaders told him. Hinchey said the city and region need a full-service bus line that would connect Norwich to Willimantic, Hartford and New Haven.

The only stop on the van tour was at a 2.3-acre Thames Riverfront parcel off Shipping Street owned by Castle Family Realty. City officials hope to move the boat launch out of busy Brown Park to the property to improve safety and boater access to the water. The current boat launch has to be closed during weekend and holiday festivals at the harbor, and there is little parking for trucks hauling boat trailers.

On Shipping Street, the city plans to tear down a rundown former mill building taken for back taxes and offer that as parking for boaters, city Director of Planning and Development Peter Davis said. The property also is large enough to host boating events, such as fishing derbies or rowing races, and could become "a full-service boat launch."

Norwich has applied for a federal Environmental Protection Agency brownfields grant to assess potential environmental contamination at the former industrial property and hopes to learn about the grant funding next month, Davis said.

c.bessette@theday.com

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