State's water taxi money could come from Coast Guard Museum funds
Hartford — Funding to operate a Thames River water taxi next summer could come out of the $20 million the state has committed toward the National Coast Guard Museum project, or be provided by the state with conditions that it be repaid once the service starts turning a profit.
Those were among suggestions made during a public hearing Wednesday at the General Assembly’s Environment Committee, which is considering a bill to provide $100,000 in state funds to operate the water taxi on weekends next summer.
The bill was originally submitted without a specific amount by Reps. John Scott and Aundré Bumgardner, Republicans who represent Groton and New London, but was revised by the Environment Committee with a $100,000 request. That figure is in the range of estimates obtained by the local group working to start the water taxi service, which had a successful pilot run for two weekends this fall, for the amount that would be needed to operate on weekends this summer.
During the hearing, New London Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio said the ferry service is a key component needed to make the Thames River Heritage Park a reality, a means of transporting visitors between sites in New London and Groton that share a common link to the estuary. The park project, he said, has brought the two communities and independent historic sites together as never before.
“The momentum is there, and this allocation of funds could solidify the park,” Finizio said. “It wouldn’t work without state support to get it started.”
The project, he said, would benefit the entire state because it would further develop one of the state’s three deep-water ports.
Committee member Rep. Jay Case, R-Winchester, said that while he supports the project, it would be difficult to justify a new state expenditure while the state is facing a deficit.
“One hundred thousand dollars would help out many people in our state,” he said.
He suggested a private company be sought to run the service, or a public-private partnership that would split any profits with the state.
State Sen. Paul Formica, R-East Lyme, testified that the water taxi would produce a return on the state’s investment, because it would be a boost to tourism in Groton and New London. Saying he shares Rep. Case’s concerns, he suggested that the funding be provided “with proper caveats” that the $100,000 would be repaid once the ferry service becomes profitable.
“I would like to see this as seed money that would come back to the state,” he said.
He also said the funding could come out of the $20 million the state has committed to the Coast Guard Museum project, and that a private operator such as Cross Sound Ferry should be enlisted to run the service.
Also testifying on behalf of the project was Groton City Councilor Keith Hedrick. City Mayor Marian Galbraith submitted written testimony.
“The prospect of a water taxi has engendered excitement and expectation in the City of Groton,” she wrote. “Current business owners have seen the possibility for increased trade and the neighborhood envisions new eateries and small shops which would bring vitality and jobs to our community. Likewise, our residents look forward to being able to hop on the water taxi to go to the New London train station, to have dinner on Bank Street in New London or to go to the theater.”
Bumgardner said the $100,000 would fund operations this summer. Grant funding is being sought for future years, he said.