Group hopes new law will allow federal funds to be used to help build Coast Guard museum in New London

New London —In its quest to raise $100 million for the museum that will house the 225-year-old history of the U.S. Coast Guard, the National Coast Guard Museum Association is hoping to secure $30 million in federal funding for construction purposes. The law that established New London as the site for the museum, however, prohibits federal funding for the project.

The language in the federal legislation has been "a thorn in our side from the beginning," said retired Adm. James Loy, who served as 21st commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard and is a member of the association's board.

A provision in the Coast Guard Maritime and Transportation Act of 2004 prohibits federal funding for "the engineering, design, or construction of any museum." The act, which authorizes appropriations for the Coast Guard, established New London as the permanent home for the museum, and was debated at a time when the Coast Guard had a backlog of about $800 million in infrastructure projects, and when other legislators were interested in having the museum in their states, primarily Cape May, N.J., and Battery Park, N.Y. This language needs to be changed in order to allow for the Coast Guard to authorize money for construction purposes.

The museum association has to raise around $50 million of the total $100 million campaign. The state has committed $20 million for the design and engineering and construction of a pedestrian bridge that will connect to the museum from Water Street, and the association is hoping the federal government will kick in another $30 million.

Loy said the state's commitment "argues for a greater commitment on the part of the federal government."

Without the $30 million in federal funding, the association would have to raise around $80 million in private donations.

"That's our desire, to get federal legislation changed that will allow the federal government to help us in the bricks and mortar part of the museum. We feel justified in doing that because it's been done for the Navy. It's been done for the Army. It's been done for the Marines. And it's been done for the Air Force," John Johnson, treasurer for the association, told The Day in December.

While in the past other military museums have received Department of Defense appropriations, this has become less common in recent years. Budget challenges and sequestration have plagued the DOD, which doesn't have extra money to support non-mission essential projects like museums.

"We need to find the right support within Congress to remove the restrictive language and provide support, whether it's through military construction (funding) or directly through Coast Guard appropriations," Loy said.

The most likely vehicle for getting the restrictive language struck is through the Coast Guard Maritime and Transportation Act, which is taken up biannually. The prohibition is just on Coast Guard funding, not all federal funding, so the museum association could also look at U.S. Department of Transportation grants, for example.

The 25th Commandant of the Coast Guard, Adm. Paul Zukunft, told The Day after the annual leadership address at the Coast Guard Academy on Wednesday that he was "hopeful that we can get the support that we need through private funding, but it would really be up to our elected officials to see if we can't get some federal funding to finish this up."

U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, said that he would "ensure that we examine all possible channels for federal support for construction and other aspects of the museum."

"As part of that continuing effort, I will build on the work we did last Congress to secure more than 300 bipartisan House co-sponsors for my bill to mint a commemorative Coast Guard coin to help raise funds for the museum," Courtney said. "In this difficult budget climate, a robust fundraising effort and creative pursuit of federal funding sources will be critical to ensure that this tribute to our Coast Guard veterans and service members crosses the finish line as soon as possible."

Courtney's bill that would have required the U.S. Treasury to create new $5 gold coins and $1 silver coins, which would have begun minting in 2017, did not pass in 2014.

Federal law only allows for two commemorative coin programs a year. One coin program has already been approved for 2017, so Courtney, who is planning to reintroduce the bill, is eyeing the remaining 2017 slot. The commemorative coin could raise $2 million to $3 million for the museum, according to the association.

As for a time frame for getting the federal language changed, Loy said, "Yesterday would've been really great."

j.bergman@theday.com

Twitter: JuliaSBergman

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