Surplus Navy vessel being sought for water taxi
The committee working to bring water taxi service between downtown New London and state parks on opposite sides of the Thames River hopes to learn within a month whether the Navy will give two 40-foot surplus utility boats to the City of Groton for the service.
Earlier this summer, the city made a request for the vessels, and on Aug. 19 that effort received a major boost when John Mathias, site director and boat inventory manager for the Navy Surface Warfare Center in Virginia Beach, wrote a letter of support to Navy officials who decide on requests for surplus vessels. Each vessel could carry 33 to 36 passengers.
“The U.S. Navy Boat Inventory Manager strongly recommends the DLA (Defense Logistics Agency) Disposition Services Norfolk consider this request favorably,” Mathias wrote.
City Mayor Marian Galbraith, chairwoman of the Water Taxi Planning and Operations Committee, said that while the boats would be given for free and are in good condition, they would need some work to adapt them for use by the public.
The goal is to have the water taxi service running by the summer of 2016 as a main component of the Thames River Heritage Park being developed to connect existing independent historic and cultural attractions on both sides of the Thames River under common theme and programming.
Anchor sites for the park would be Fort Griswold State Park and the Submarine Force Museum-USS Nautilus in Groton, and Fort Trumbull State Park and the proposed National Coast Guard Museum in New London.
More than a dozen smaller sites also would be incorporated into the proposed park.
Galbraith gave an update on the water taxi to the transition team developing the park at its meeting Wednesday morning.
The group authorized spending of up to $10,000 to cover the estimated $6,000 cost to transport the two vessels from Virginia to a storage facility in southeastern Connecticut, and about $1,000 to $1,500 to have marine engineers inspect them.
The transition team has about $200,000 in state funds for the park for the next two years, plus a total of $30,000 from the three municipalities involved — Groton Town, Groton City and New London.
Modifications to the utility boats, which had been used to transport sailors to larger Navy vessels, would be kept at a minimum, Galbraith said.
“We want to keep them as close to the original as possible, so that visitors will get to ride on a real Navy transport vessel,” she said. “That would be part of the park experience.”
She said the committee also has been working with a potential operator of the water taxi service, who would probably lease the vessels from Groton City for a small fee, Galbraith said.
In another development related to the water taxi, Bob Ross, transition team member and executive director of the state Office of Military Affairs, said “conversations have resumed” with the Navy and state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection about building a dock at the Submarine Force Museum for the taxi to land.
Plans were developed about a decade ago, but never executed.
The next step is to review the existing plans, determine whether they need to be updated and develop cost estimates.
The Navy previously approved the dock, provided the costs were paid for by another source.
Ross said some combination of state and private funds would be the likely source.
Also during the meeting, the transition team heard a presentation on establishing a bicycle share service that park visitors could use.
Tom Glendening, founder of E3 Think, and Carlos Pujol, chief executive officer of P3 Global Management, both of New York City, proposed seeking corporate sponsors to provide the service.
While the group was receptive to the plan, transition team Chairman Chris Cox cautioned that the park is not far enough along to make a commitment.
He asked that Glendening and Pujol come back at a future meeting with a small-scale plan that could operate when the park begins operations.
“We’re not ready, set, go,” Cox told them. “We’re ready, getting set, and then go. But it would be fun to have different kinds of transportation to get people to the sites.”
In other business, the group also set a goal of establishing nonprofit status and turning over the park operations to a permanent board of directors by Memorial Day.
“This is good, this is progress,” Cox said.