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Tea Party alert: Feds to flush $1.4 million into the Thames

By David Collins

Publication: The Day

Published April 12. 2013 4:00AM

There are times, not many, when I can sympathize with the anti-government rants of the Tea Party.

And nothing raises any taxpayer's ire more than government waste.

This week, we saw an especially good example of it in New London, where the owner of a city marina, a Fairfield County real estate entrepreneur, was awarded a $1.4 million grant to build new docks for transient boaters.

The grant, which requires the marina owner to invest about $500,000 of his own money, will provide $1.4 million in federal funds for the construction of new floating docks and a concrete breakwater to minimize the effect of wakes from passing boats on the river.

There are so many troubling aspects to this grant it's hard to know where to start ranting. I guess that's where some genuine Tea Party input would help.

The marina in question, Thamesport, at 260 Pequot Ave., was purchased in 2008 for $1.5 million. Yes, that's right, the federal government is going to invest almost as much money in this private business as someone paid for it five years ago.

Why not let the government help you double your money?

Another amazing part of the awarding of $1.4 million in federal grant money to build more docks in New London is that there is a glut of dock space in the city. Among the accommodations for transient boaters that go largely unused are the city's own floating docks at City Pier and the new city mooring field off the Waterfront Park, also built with the help of federal money.

I suspect the owner of Thamesport believes that by using his federal grant money to build a wake-busting breakwater that he will be able to draw more transient boaters than nearby marinas or the city itself.

But doesn't that put the federal government in the awkward position of helping him undercut the competition? In fact, the feds seem to be helping to thwart the city's own slip and mooring rental enterprise.

And if a breakwater is needed, shouldn't the government just build it so that it benefits all?

As for the economic development the marina owner has forecast, I am sure the city would be much better off if visiting boaters without cars tied up downtown at the city's own docks or at its moorings, not out on Pequot Avenue.

Another incredible aspect to this grant is that the money will come from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Yes, I know, I too thought Fish & Wildlife was supposed to be looking out for the fish and birds and bunnies, not building docks for big stinkpots.

A spokesman for Fish & Wildlife explained that the $1.4 million bound for the privately owned New London marina comes from a boating fund that is financed by taxes and fees generally paid by the boating community, like taxes on marine fuel and fishing gear.

I think a good Tea Party delegate might suggest that the government should stop collecting those taxes, rather than play reverse Robin Hood and take the money from boat owners and give it to marina owners.

As for the reasoning behind granting money to build docks in a city that already has too many of them, the Fish & Wildlife spokesman referred me to the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

A DEEP official explained that the state agency did indeed give a thumbs-up to the Thamesport grant request, largely because it was the only one submitted from the state in that category this funding cycle.

The implication is, well, if it's federal money coming in to Connecticut, why not get our piece? Apparently no one else from Connecticut thought to submit a better proposal in that category for DEEP to consider. (The New England Science & Sailing Foundation of Stonington, a nonprofit that provides water-related programs for young people, did get $900,000 in a smaller grant category.)

I know it's comparing apples to oranges, but it's hard to ignore the symbolism of reading in one single edition of The Day that, on the one hand, the government of New London is contemplating cuts to the Public Library of New London that could force it to close, while the federal government is going to finance the unnecessary expansion of a privately owned marina in the city, to accommodate large yachts.

It kind of makes you want to join the Tea Party.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

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