Groton squabbles about where to display the sail of its namesake submarine

Renderings of the future USS Groton sail monument are part of a brochure provided by the chairman of the USS Groton Sail Foundation board of directors. The Groton Town Council discussed the foundation’s plans for the monument Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2017. (Courtesy of the USS Groton Sail Foundation)
Renderings of the future USS Groton sail monument are part of a brochure provided by the chairman of the USS Groton Sail Foundation board of directors. The Groton Town Council discussed the foundation’s plans for the monument Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2017. (Courtesy of the USS Groton Sail Foundation)

Groton — The USS Groton Sail Foundation has raised more than $200,000 toward creating a monument to display the sail of the town's namesake nuclear attack submarine, and the foundation plans to build the memorial on Bridge Street.

William Vogel, chairman of the foundation board of directors, told the Town Council on Tuesday that the foundation has signed a letter of intent to buy the land near the World War II National Submarine Memorial for the USS Groton Sail memorial.

Several councilors said they were unhappy with how that decision was made.

“I can’t figure out for the life of me how people are going to be able to go down there with cars and kids and civic groups and everything else,” Councilor Karen Morton said. “I mean, there’s no place to park. It’s very inaccessible.” Morton said she thought the sail was going to go near Groton Public Library.

A site selection committee looked at 28 possible sites for the sail, including the lawn of Groton Heights, the upper Costa property on Thames Street and land near the library and Groton Senior Center.

Town Councilor Rich Moravsik, who served on the site committee, said the Bridge Street site has no bathrooms for people who visit and is more costly than other sites.

"I'm outraged at the way this was handled," Councilor Bonnie Nault said, describing it as having been "hijacked" by former Groton City Mayor Marian Galbraith.

Galbraith is a member of the sail foundation's board of directors and chairman of its steering committee, which is handling fundraising.

She did not attend the meeting, but when reached by phone later Tuesday night, Galbraith said, "I think it's unfortunate that this is being made into something personal or political, because this was a (board of directors) decision." She said they went on a tour of some of the proposed sites, saw the Bridge Street location and liked it.

Vogel, who was not involved in the process when the site selection committee was active, said it was late in the review when the Bridge Street option was found. People liked the site because it was on the water and is halfway between the Naval Submarine Base and Electric Boat, he said. The foundation board of directors voted unanimously in 2016 to choose the site, Vogel said. Parking would be available in the lot behind the National Submarine Memorial, he said.

The "sail" of a submarine is the tower-like portion that protrudes from the hull at the center of the ship.

The USS Groton (SSN-694), a Los Angeles-class attack sub, was the third Navy ship named for Groton. Built at Electric Boat, it was launched in October 1976, commissioned in July 1978, and decommissioned in November 1997. The ship was awaiting disposition in Bremerton, Wash.

The town initially owned the land where the sail would be placed, but after the Gold Star Memorial Bridge was built, the town turned it over to a private owner, Vogel said. The foundation is now buying the land back. The foundation has spent some money but has more than $100,000 in the bank and enough to buy the land, he said. The group ultimately hopes to raise $2 million for the project and have the monument ready for the summer of 2019.

Mayor Bruce Flax said he understands why the decision was made and he supports the final plan. But he doesn’t like how it played out; the town gave the private owner the land for free and he’s now selling it back to the town, Flax said. The asking price was not immediately available.

d.straszheim@theday.com

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