Connecticut Port Authority committed to Lower Connecticut River Valley, says chairman

From left to right, J.H. Torrance Downes, deputy director of Lower Connecticut River Valley Council of Governments and the Gateway Commission, Scott Bates, chairman, John Johnson, board member, both with the Connecticut Port Authority, and Bonnie Reemsnyder, first selectwoman of Old Lyme, look at the view while on a boat tour of the lower Connecticut River on Thursday, Aug. 25, 2016.  (Dana Jensen/The Day)
From left to right, J.H. Torrance Downes, deputy director of Lower Connecticut River Valley Council of Governments and the Gateway Commission, Scott Bates, chairman, John Johnson, board member, both with the Connecticut Port Authority, and Bonnie Reemsnyder, first selectwoman of Old Lyme, look at the view while on a boat tour of the lower Connecticut River on Thursday, Aug. 25, 2016. (Dana Jensen/The Day)

Small, river communities have been "the heart and soul of Connecticut" and are part of the state's future — and the Connecticut Port Authority's mandate.

That was the message the chairman of the board of directors for the Connecticut Port Authority delivered Thursday in Old Lyme.

"We're here today to demonstrate our strong commitment to the Lower Connecticut River Valley and to work in close partnership with the elected officials in this region," Scott Bates said during a meeting of the board of directors held Thursday afternoon at Old Lyme Town Hall.

After the meeting, Bates and officials from area towns took a boat cruise along the Connecticut River, observing vistas of marshes and hills, osprey nests, small marinas and boats.

Port Authority representatives, local officials from Old Lyme, Essex, Deep River and Chester, and officials from the Lower Connecticut River Valley Council of Governments participated in the tour.

Bates said he has been visiting more than 20 coastal towns and cities to ensure their needs are being addressed in a comprehensive strategic plan under development.

The Connecticut Port Authority's mission not only includes large ports in New London, New Haven and Bridgeport, but also smaller, coastal communities.

"It's really about making sure we're pulling together as a state," Bates said.

The Connecticut Port Authority, formed through 2014 legislation, is "responsible for marketing and coordinating the development of the state’s ports and maritime economy," according to its website.

Bates noted the importance of improving infrastructure to ensure the state easily moves goods and services, a vital component of economic development in the 21st century.

He said the purpose of the tour is to gain an appreciation of the economic vitality of the lower Connecticut River Valley, look at needs for dredging or facility upgrades, and ensure the waters of the river remain protected.

Old Lyme First Selectwoman Bonnie Reesmsnyder, who serves on the board of directors, has been advocating for small river towns, he said.

During the boat tour, local officials pointed out that the river is important for the region's economy and residents' quality of life.

"There's a lot of economic drivers here," said Reemsnyder, gesturing to boats dotting the waters near the Essex Yacht Club on the sunny afternoon.

"All of these boats represent the tourism industry," said John Johnson of Old Lyme, who also serves on the board of directors.

Later, Johnson noted that he has been on the water for decades and has never seen it cleaner, as people are respecting the water and environmental efforts have "done wonders for the river and for Long Island Sound."

Reemsnyder said that while the state's large ports are important, so are other waterways.

She said Old Lyme received a $1.6 million state grant to dredge the Black Hall and Four Mile Rivers, where many kayak.

She noted that the positive benefits the dredging had on a business by the river, Black Hall Outfitters. 

During a presentation at the Old Lyme meeting, J.H. Torrance Downes, the deputy director of the Lower Connecticut River Valley Council of Governments and staff to the Connecticut River Gateway Commission, pointed to the importance to the region of eco-tourism and recreational boating. 

Essex First Selectman Norman Needleman said it's important for local harbors to have a disposal site when they are periodically dredged. He referenced the Environmental Protection Agency's proposal for a site in eastern Long Island Sound that Connecticut's governor supports, but New York's governor opposes.

He also said he would like to see more people using and enjoying the Connecticut River.

"It's a vibrant waterfront, up and down the Connecticut River," Bates said at the conclusion of the trip. "It's beautiful. We have to maintain and protect that for the quality of life to be maintained."

He said the region could look forward to the Connecticut Port Authority's commitment not only to keep the channel clear in Old Saybrook for boating, but also to ensure marinas have access to the waters of the Connecticut River so everyone can enjoy them.

k.drelich@theday.com

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