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Gov. Malloy jumps on board with water taxi

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Friday that his office will work to help bring regular water taxi service to the Thames River by next summer.

Malloy, who rode the vessel on Sunday from City Pier to Groton, first expressed enthusiasm for the water taxi to groups at the landings and at the Groton City Block Party, as well as during an interview that day on the radio station 106.5. On Friday, his office released a statement confirming his support.

The free water taxi service operated for Sept. 6, 7, 13 and 14 as a trial as part of organizing efforts for the proposed Thames River Heritage Park. The vessel would be a key component of the multi-site park that would connect independent attractions on the Groton and New London sides of the river.

"The Thames River Water Taxi is good for tourism and the local and regional economies of the New London and Groton area," Malloy said in an email. "The state of Connecticut, through the Department of Economic and Community Development and Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, has given funding and shared resources to help get this pilot project off the ground. After riding the water taxi last weekend, I got to experience firsthand how enjoyable this service is and will continue working with local officials and regional organizations to see what support we can offer to make this a permanent feature by next summer."

Groton City Mayor Marian Galbraith said Malloy's support is significant for the future prospects of the water taxi service.

"It means he understands the importance of it to our region, and that he's going to be receptive to us" when a formal request for assistance is made, she said. She noted that Malloy's office initiated contact with local officials about coming to ride the water taxi.

Establishing permanent water taxi service is one of the key elements of the proposed heritage park that organizers have been focusing on. Significant progress also has been made in obtaining letters of support for the park from community groups and historic and cultural sites.

Eleven of the 19 support letters received thus far have been sent to Malloy's office to demonstrate regional consensus that the park should become a reality and ultimately bolster the case for state assistance in creating it. The park would link sites on both sides of the river, including Fort Griswold and Fort Trumbull state parks, the Submarine Force Museum, USS Nautilus and the proposed National Coast Guard Museum. A steering committee initiated by the Avery-Copp House, which also would be one of the park sites, is leading the heritage park organizing effort.

"The creation of the proposed Thames River Heritage Park is consistent with many of the goals of the Southeastern Connecticut Council of Government's 2007 Regional Plan of Conservation and Development, including the need to protect the region's historic resources and the promotion of cultural tourism," wrote James Butler, executive director of SCCOG, in an April 23 letter.

Edward Baker, executive director of the New London County Historical Society, called the park concept "a brilliant means to move forward," particularly with the proposed Coast Guard museum as an anchor.

"Instead of a two-hour visit to the Coast Guard Museum," he wrote in his April 16 letter, "we can now offer a two-day experience linking the colonial, Revolutionary War, whaling, Navy, shipbuilding (... and on and on) past with the present."

Robert Ross, executive director of the state Office of Military Affairs, wrote in his letter that the heritage park would provide the ideal vehicle for telling the "great stories of Connecticut's maritime history," with the Coast Guard Museum as the "grand centerpiece and gateway to all we have to offer on the shores of the Thames River."

Sites proposed to be part of the park that have also sent letters of support include: the Bill Memorial Library, the City of Groton, Connecticut Landmarks (owner of the Hempsted houses), the Avery Memorial Association (owner of the Ebenezer Avery House), the Lyman Allyn Art Museum, the Mystic Whaler and the New London County Historical Society, owner of the Shaw Mansion.

Letters also have come from Cross Sound Ferry, the Connecticut Maritime Coalition, the Groton Business Association, Groton Historian Jim Streeter, Mitchell College, New London Landmarks, the Renaissance City Development Association, the Southeastern Connecticut Enterprise Region (seCTer), the Town of Groton and the Avery Point campus of the University of Connecticut.

Penny Parsekian, development, communications and special projects consultant to the Avery-Copp House, said that letters have been requested from the Sons of the American Revolution - owner of the Nathan Hale Schoolhouse - and the Eastern Connecticut Chamber of Commerce, and both have agreed to write them. Letters also have been requested from the Navy, the Nautilus, the Coast Guard Museum Association and the City of New London.

All seem willing, she said, but have not yet acted. Steering committee members said this week they plan to ask for letters of support from additional sites and local groups in the coming weeks.

j.benson@theday.com

Twitter: @BensonJudy

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