Thames River Heritage Park advances with signed document
Plans for the Thames River Heritage Park moved a step forward this week when local officials received a signed document committing the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to participate in development of the multi-site attraction.
DEEP Commissioner Robert Klee last week signed a memorandum of intent outlining his agency’s role in helping shepherd the park from concept to reality.
Groton City Mayor Marian Galbraith, a member of the steering committee working on the park plan, said she received the signed document Tuesday.
Galbraith, along with the mayors of the town of Groton and New London, and the executive director of the Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments, will sign it over the next few days and return it to DEEP, making it official.
“Now we’ll be able to start assembling a transition team,” Galbraith said. “Before this, we (the steering committee) were just a group of well-meaning people, but we had no authority.”
The transition team would include representatives of DEEP, which oversees two of the park’s anchor sites — Fort Griswold in Groton and Fort Trumbull in New London — as well as representatives from the three municipalities and the two other anchor sites, the Submarine Force Museum and the proposed National Coast Guard Museum.
More than a dozen other smaller private, nonprofit historic and cultural sites also would be part of the park, conceived as a collection of attractions connected thematically by ties to the Thames River and physically with signs, programming and a water taxi.
“The heritage park is unique. Everything about it is unique,” said Jessie Stratton, director of policy for DEEP. Unlike other state parks, the heritage park, designated by DEEP as a state park in 1990 but never realized, would be a “virtual” entity, she said.
DEEP, she said, is not committing any funding to the park, but will provide some staff and maintenance assistance. The transition team would work over the next year to establish a nonprofit group to organize and run the park and seek grants and donations, she said.
Penny Parsekian, chairwoman of the steering committee, said that obtaining the signed memorandum of intent follows the plan laid out by the Yale Urban Design Workshop in its report on the proposed park, which was released this spring.
“This is our road map,” she said. “We are so excited about this, because now we have a template to go forward. It gives us a working relationship with DEEP.”
As the transition team is being organized and schedules its first meeting sometime this month, Galbraith and other members of the steering committee are continuing to work on securing a water taxi to take visitors to sites on both sides of the Thames River.
A pilot run of the water taxi ran two weekends last summer.
Galbraith and others had hoped water taxi service would be available this summer, but were unable to secure a vessel due to uncertainty about funding to subsidize the operation. Now that the state budget is finalized, however, that has changed.
The state budget includes $100,000 for operations and marketing for the water taxi for fiscal 2015 and another $100,000 for fiscal 2016. Groton Town, Groton City and New London are each slated to contribute $10,000.
Now, however, potential operators contacted thus far are already committed for this summer, she said.
“We’re confident about next year,” Galbraith said. “We’re still looking and trying different angles for this summer, but if we are able to do anything this year it will probably be at the end of the summer.”
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