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Who cares what the Coast Guard commandant thinks?

I was surprised earlier this month to read a commentary in The Day by Adm. Karl Schultz, 26th commandant of the Coast Guard, in which he said "there is no better place" for the Coast Guard museum than the problematic site chosen in downtown New London, in a flood plain on the wrong side of the railroad tracks.

I presume he was responding to some recent columns, online commentary and letters to the editor suggesting it is time to abandon the foolish downtown site and plan for a museum where the New London community clearly wants it: at Fort Trumbull.

It is curious that the admiral responded, while the National Coast Guard Museum Association, the nonprofit which has been unsuccessful in raising anywhere near enough money to proceed with the problematic downtown site, has remained mum in the face of the controversy percolating anew.

After all, previous commandants have remained pointedly removed from the museum planning by the nonprofit association, citing laws preventing uniformed officers from fundraising.

Maybe it's just me, but I read the commandant's commentary as a clear public endorsement, all oars in the water, for the museum association's principal mission, which right now is fundraising, convincing donors the project is on track and feasible.

One previous Coast Guard commandant studiously avoided any involvement with the museum association but promised to help raise money after he retired. We haven't seen much of him around town in recent years, as private fundraising has largely stalled.

Really, why should we care what the current Coast Guard commandant thinks about siting the museum? Doesn't he have a big agency to run, a country to protect?

Honestly, considering the way this project is floundering, many more commandants could be expected to come and go as the museum plans languish, an unaffordable project with no means of paying for it in sight.

The federal law establishing the museum calls for it to be built in New London but doesn't specify a particular location. The law has since been amended to allow for federal funding to create exhibits, but it provides for no Coast Guard involvement in planning or building the museum.

Last I heard, the military, including the Coast Guard, reports to the democratically elected government, and so far the biggest pot of money for this project has been committed from public funds, including $20 million from Connecticut.

The citizenry, through their representatives, should be the ones to be heard.

I have no doubt, if you were to put this to a vote in New London, the location for the museum designated in federal law, there would be a landslide for putting it at Fort Trumbull and not downtown.

I like the idea of a big glassy museum on the downtown waterfront, at a ferry/train hub, an urban anchor.

But it's time to acknowledge the reality that the museum association, after many years of trying, has been unable to reach even a fraction of its fundraising goals for this grand version of the project.

Sadly, those goals are based on years-old, back-of-the-envelope cost estimates, and the real cost of the project could easily be double those early projections.

Who knows how much it could eventually be? It hasn't been put to bid and there isn't even a timetable anymore, with the original scheduled opening date now years gone by.

I am waiting to see whether some elected official might find some wisp of leadership here. Put this on track.

Plan instead for a museum at Fort Trumbull, where there is appropriate historical context and a reasonable buildable site with existing infrastructure.

Listen to the people who are largely going to pay for it.

It's time to honor the brave men and women of the Coast Guard and not fritter away any more money on a floundering dream.

This is the opinion of David Collins.


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