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New London must insist on a Fort Trumbull Coast Guard museum

Now that we know the clock is ticking on a put-up-and-build-or-get-out deadline for a Coast Guard museum on the precarious and small flood plain in front of the downtown New London Union Station, city officials need to push the project to where it belongs: at Fort Trumbull.

Indeed, the museum could be built not only at the fort peninsula but actually on the 16 acres of Fort Trumbull State Park, which is ground zero for Connecticut and U.S. maritime history.

The original fort, built in 1777, was attacked in 1781 during the Revolutionary War and held by British forces under the command of Benedict Arnold.

The area surrounding the fort was important to the birth of the Coast Guard, where Coast Guard officers were first trained when the country's lifesaving service merged with its the revenue cutter service.

The Coast Guard has been there ever since, now operating a search-and-rescue station in the buildings that housed what became today's Coast Guard Academy.

There are magnificent places on the grounds of the park to accommodate a fine tribute to the brave men women of the Coast Guard, a museum that could tell the story of the service in the appropriate context of maritime history.

There is a high perch, for instance, adjacent to the Coast Guard station, that would give museum visitors equal access to the magnificent fort, already restored to its 19th century iteration.

Visitors could also maybe tour the working Coast Guard station as well as ships that might be made available from time to time on the ample piers.

There are amazing views out the Thames River toward the open sea and all across the river basin, where the vista includes the site of another Revolutionary War battle, in Groton, the striking New London skyline and the makings of modern marine warfare, submarines under construction at Electric Boat.

Never mind an expensive bridge at the current proposed location, there could be water taxis with weather enclosure that could run almost year-round to Groton and downtown New London, the river museum.

The state owns the land. Infrastructure is all in place. Parking could be worked out.

It is such a perfect solution for siting a Coast Guard museum that it makes you want to laugh, or maybe cry, at the crazed plans to build it on a problematic site downtown. Those call for building a $20 million bridge across the railroad tracks to connect the museum to a parking garage that is near capacity most summer days.

Never mind that state environmental officials might never allow it to be built on the flood-prone site, water-locked by the high-speed rail line. After seven years of trying, the museum association has spent millions on salaries and expenses but raised only a small piece of what it might eventually take to build such a complicated project.

I take that back about laughing. It's not funny. It's so ridiculous, it is an affront to us all. And most of Connecticut politicians are indulging the fantasy of a nonprofit with little Connecticut representation.

I call on the New London City Council to step in here and make it clear that the planning needs to change direction, toward Fort Trumbull. Set up a committee. Start the discussions. A great opportunity for the city is being wasted.

There is no way a museum will be built on the impossible downtown site by May 2024, and the city should not give one more minute beyond the generous 10-year deadline for building something that accompanied the gift of the downtown land.

Now is the time to turn the ship to a new direction and build a tribute to the Coast Guard that will make the city proud and respect the rich maritime history of Fort Trumbull.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

d.collins@theday.com

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