Legislator calls meeting to discuss changes, future of Groton-New London Airport

Groton — State Rep. Joe de la Cruz has called for a meeting next month here to discuss the future of Groton-New London Airport, including whether commercial operations are being considered.

De la Cruz, D-Groton, said he sought the meeting with Kevin A. Dillon, executive director of the Connecticut Airport Authority, his staff, and the town and city mayors to discuss pending and proposed changes at the airport.

“I think there’s no connectivity between the airport and the town," de la Cruz said. "We just feel like it’s a humungous part of our town and there's some hopes (for) commercial flights. But everything is always speculation.” He'd like to learn more about what is and isn't being considered.

The meeting is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. on Feb. 22 in the Town Hall Annex.

“As a region, we’re one of the few places in Connecticut that has a deep water port, an airport, a railway and a major thoroughfare, meaning an interstate,” said Groton City Mayor Keith Hedrick. “We are a major hub, so what are we going to do with that hub? Are we going to be a supply hub? There’s certainly opportunities there that we could take advantage of.”

The state Department of Economic and Community Development last year approved Groton's request for an airport development zone, which offers tax breaks to manufacturing and other businesses within a two-mile radius of the airport. While requests to use the program have yet to come in, the Airport Industrial Park has seen a steady flow of new tenants in recent months.

"That indicates a significant uptick in the airport area, so we definitely have seen upward momentum," said Paige Bronk, Groton's manager of economic and community development.

Last month, the airport authority’s board of directors voted to finalize an agreement with the airport operations company AFCO AvPorts to start phasing in contract employees at three airports, including Groton-New London. Existing staff at the airports would remain, with AvPorts filling those positions through attrition, as people leave.

Poquonnock Fire Chief Joseph Winski said he wants to find out more about what this means for fire protection. The Poquonnock Bridge Fire Department responds to all fire calls at the airport, but is not its primary firefighting force, Winski said.

Instead, the airport's three maintenance staff also respond to fire calls. If the maintenance crew is working on a runway and an emergency call comes in, it picks up a firetruck stored nearby and answers the call, Winski said. He’d like to see this dual role continue.

The local fire department wouldn't be prepared with its present training and staff to take over the service, Winski said. Airports also have different firefighting requirements based on whether they handle commercial service, he said.

Airport development would be positive, but the town must understand what the changes mean, Winski said.

De la Cruz made a similar observation. “Even though we all we’re all pushing for economic development, we want to be part of it,” he said. “Even if it’s a great surprise, a surprise is still a surprise. And when you’re in government, you want to know.”



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