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DEEP questions proposed location for USS Groton sail

Groton — A commissioner of the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection says the sail of the town's namesake nuclear attack submarine, which was decommissioned in 1997, should not be displayed adjacent to Fort Griswold Battlefield State Park but along the Thames River.

A joint committee, which includes representatives of the town, city and the submarine builder Electric Boat, considered two potential sites, both near Fort Griswold. The committee decided last month that its preferred site is the front lawn of the former Groton Heights School and to the right of Bill Memorial Library on Monument Street.

Town Councilor Rich Moravsik said locating the sail on the lawn would be the least expensive, at about $700,000, and would place the sail on hallowed ground.

"For her to make a comment about other sites, it was not for her to do," Morvasik said.

Susan K. Whalen, deputy commissioner of environmental conservation, wrote in a June 10 email to the town manager and Groton City and Groton Town mayors that DEEP believes a different site would be better.

"We consider the Fort Griswold site a singularly important historic site, one of national significance," she wrote. "Eighty-eight Americans lost their lives at this location; it is worthy of special consideration with respect to adjacent activities."

She added: "It is the only memorial of its type in the nation; surviving Revolutionary War sites are incredibly rare. To that end, we do not see a connection between the Fort and the sail that enhances either."

She the sail could also obscure the view of the fort.

City Mayor Marian Galbraith said she would bring up the correspondence during the next committee meeting at 3 p.m. on Wednesday in the Town Hall Annex.

The "sail" of a submarine is the tower-like portion that protrudes from the hull at the center of the ship. The USS Groton was the third submarine named for Groton. It was launched in October 1976 and commissioned in July 1978.

The town owns most of the land recommended for the memorial park, so the Town Council would need to approve its use.

The committee looked at 28 possible sites for the sail. Chad Frost, of Kent + Frost Landscape Architecture in Mystic, provided drawings of what the memorial park might look like at two possible locations, including the lawn of Groton Heights and the upper Costa property on Thames Street.

At Groton Heights, the potential design would locate the sail on a circular plaza to the right of the library, with a walkway that depicts the history of the design, construction and sailing of the ship. The area behind the plaza would include "ripples" in the turf, and a walkway to a "family park" with the ship's rudder and 13 trees, one for each deployment.

On the Costa property, off Thames Street, the design would place the sail on a circular plaza across the street from the river, plant wave berms along the sides, and build a history wall behind it. The design would also include 24 trees to represent the two years of construction, and locate the rudder behind the trees. The plan would require 27 parking spaces and retaining walls.

Whalen said the DEEP, which met with town and city officials in late June to discuss the project, believes the sail belongs along the Thames River, "where it can serve as a destination for those who wish to get close to the riverside, and a place to gather to watch returning submarines or other types of marine events."

She suggested that the upper Costa property or west of the USS Flasher Memorial (the U.S. Submarine Veterans of World War II National Memorial East) would be preferable sites.

Moravsik said there's a house on the Costa property with people living in it, and the city would have to buy the house. The Costa location would also put the submarine sail in view of the sewage treatment plant, he said.

The USS Flasher is at the junction of Bridge and Thames streets, but the land there owned by a private individual, Moravsik said.

The parts of the USS Groton are in the state of Washington. They would have to be moved and reassembled, then placed on a site prepared to handle their weight, a combined 62,430 pounds, according to Capt. Carl Lahti, commanding officer of the Naval Submarine Base in Groton.

d.straszheim@theday.com

Twitter: @DStraszheim

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