Local projects recommended for harbor improvement grants

Norwich — Waterfront construction and planning for several projects, including a new dock at the Historic Ship Nautilus and improvements to the Stonington Town Dock and breakwater were included in the Connecticut Port Authority's approval of $6.4 million in grants, launching the Small Harbor Improvement Projects Program.

The Port Authority met Thursday and approved 18 grant applications for projects in Groton, Stonington, Waterford and Norwich that will be forwarded to the state Bond Commission for funding approval.

With the vote, Port Authority Chairman Scott Bates said the authority officially launched its small harbor program meant to give attention, improvements and spur economic development in waterfront communities not considered among the state's major ports.

The largest local application approved was for $730,000 to design and build a new dock at the Submarine Force Library & Museum, location of the Nautilus. The dock would enable the museum to be part of the Thames River Heritage Park and would give a landing point for the heritage park's summer water shuttle that makes stops at attractions on both banks of the Thames River.

"For about 10 years, people have been trying to tie the (Submarine Force Library & Museum) park to the waterfront," Bates said after the meeting.

New London Mayor Michael Passero, a member of the Thames River Heritage Park board, also welcomed the Nautilus dock grant approval Thursday. He said the dock there was designed some 15 years ago — long before the water taxi started last summer — and has been a "big priority" for the heritage park board.

"That will benefit tourism in the entire region," Passero said.

While most construction projects would require at least a 20 percent local matching share, projects on federal property — including the Naval Submarine Base — would not need to provide a matching share. The federal government would maintain the dock once it is installed, Bates said.

Groton City also was approved for $54,400 for planning, design and permitting for a new Thames Street dock and Waterford would receive a $35,000 grant also for planning, design and permitting for a $300,000 mooring/dock project at Mago Point.

Stonington would receive two grants, one for $255,000 for design and permitting for improvements at the south pier of Town Dock that houses the commercial fishing fleet and one for $135,000 to study and design the reconstruction of the 1837 breakwater that protects Stonington Harbor. The breakwater now is submerged at high tide and "not doing the job it was designed for," Bates said.

Stonington First Selectman Rob Simmons said the town submitted a detailed 30-page application for the two grants. The breakwater has sustained damage over the past two centuries.

“The damage over the years has resulted in overflow of the breakwater, which leaves the whole west side of the borough unprotected in a hurricane-strength storm,” Simmons said.

The south pier of the town fishing dock was repaired in the early 2000s, but that work was not sufficient and now a section of the pier has washed away, causing town officials to be concerned it could become unsafe, Simmons said.

The planning and design grants do not require local matching shares, but once the projects in Stonington, Waterford and Groton are designed, the municipalities can apply for construction grants. Those grants would require at least a 20 percent matching share.

Norwich received approval for $7,500 of the estimated $15,000 cost to update the city's 25-year-old Harbor Management Plan. The city will be required to provide the 50 percent matching share.

The Norwich Harbor Management Commission presented the authority with an overview of its vision for the Norwich Harbor and waterfront, including top priorities to relocate the city's boat launch, promote the harbor for recreational fishing and update the Harbor Management Plan.

Commission consultant Geoff Steadman told the authority the original plan calls for promoting mixed use development at two key Thames River areas, the Shipping Street former industrial district and the New Wharf area that for 100 years housed a scrapyard. But new federal flood maps put both areas in high-hazard floodways, requiring the Norwich city officials to create new visions for the two spots.

Asked why New London did not apply, authority member Pam Elkow said New London would be considered a major deepwater port, not part of the small harbor program.

"These projects will create jobs and strengthen the maritime economy from Stonington to Stamford," Bates said after the meeting. "This is a vote of confidence in the communities that brought these projects to us. In hard times, these are the most important investments to make, building Connecticut."

c.bessette@theday.com

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