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Operators to be sought for New London-Groton water taxi

Groton — Operators for a water taxi service between New London and Groton will be sought starting next month, under a plan outlined Wednesday by the Thames River Heritage Park Steering Committee.

City Mayor Marian Galbraith, a member of the steering committee, said the actions needed to get the water taxi service running on weekends this summer include preparing and issuing a Request for Proposals by mid-January.

Once proposals are received and costs of running the service are known, she said, the steering committee could seek funding from the state and private sponsors.

The water taxi service, which had a successful pilot run this fall, is considered an integral element to tie together the four anchor historic attractions on both sides of the river - Fort Trumbull and Fort Griswold state parks, the Submarine Force Museum and Nautilus, and the proposed National Coast Guard Museum - as well as the dozen additional sites that would make up the proposed park.

Galbraith told the committee that the steps toward furthering the water taxi plan came about after a recent meeting with Jessie Stratton, policy director at the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

"She suggested a short-term strategy of putting out an RFP and getting it up and running this summer," she said. One-third of the funding for the taxi could come from the state, one-third from sponsors and donors and the remaining third from passenger ticket sales, Galbraith said.

In addition to the water taxi, the committee will also seek proposals for a shuttle service to take park visitors from the ferry landing on Thames Street to Fort Griswold State Park, separated by a steep walkway, then to the Avery Copp House and the Submarine Force Museum and Nautilus.

"The shuttle could run on a 45-minute loop," Galbraith said.

While the initial funding would go toward operations for this summer, the committee is also preparing to submit an application to the Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments to fund the water taxi operations for 2016 and 2017, she said.

Galbraith and other members of the water taxi subcommittee are also gathering information on water taxi operations in other communities.

The committee is also awaiting completion of a report on the park by the Yale Urban Design Workshop. Draft versions of four sections are completed. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's office will meet with members of the steering committee once the entire report is final, Galbraith said. That meeting could be key in obtaining designation as a new state park and state funding for operations. The final report is expected to include a recommendation that the park be run and funded as a public-private partnership.

In the draft section released this week, the report lists more than two dozen other actions that should be followed to bring the park plan to fruition. These include the following:

• Identify a local leader who can take on the role of moving the park project forward.

• Develop a long-range implementation plan, with goals, costs and potential funding streams.

• Identify and secure state funding to support core capital projects including signage and the water taxi system.

• Develop funding streams outside of state funding, including grants, foundation funding and contributions.

• Build a platform for park sites to develop common programming, events and schedules.

• Develop marketing, signage and services to provide visitors with "a clear, comfortable and unified but thematically diverse experience within the park."

• Develop better linkages between downtown New London and Fort Trumbull for pedestrians, bicyclists and water taxi passengers.

• Improve Fort Griswold state park.

• Develop a website and GPS-enabled mobile app.

• Support completion of the Coast Guard Museum.

j.benson@theday.com

Twitter: @BensonJudy

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