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Coast Guard Museum clears some regulatory hurdles

By David Collins

Publication: The Day

Published May 07. 2014 4:00AM

I know some people are still skeptical about the location of the National Coast Guard Museum, in part because of worries about the permits required to build something so big on such a small lot, so close to the water.

Maybe that's why Adm. Robert J. Papp Jr., Coast Guard commandant, looked so gleeful last week at a land-transfer ceremony when he held up the freshly signed deed to the small plot adjacent to New London's City Pier.

"I have the deed. Can you believe it? I think I'm going to sleep with this tonight."

Putting the deed in the name of the U.S. government not only represented a significant milestone in planning for the proposed museum, it also means a lot of regulatory hurdles have been cleared.

The New London City Council and the Planning and Zoning Commission each signed off on the land transfer.

And now that it is federal land, it is not subject to city planning and land-use rules, according to Mayor Daryl Finizio.

The project also may get close to a free pass at the state regulatory level.

A spokesman for the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection said projects on federal land, such as the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, generally get some oversight by submitting plans for review.

In that instance, the state is kept informed of a project but does not have the authority to change or stop it.

There are still discussions underway, according to the DEEP spokesman, about whether the Coast Guard itself will build the museum.

In the event that the museum is built by an entity other than the Coast Guard, it may come under some additional regulatory oversight, in addition to the review that applies to federal entities, according to the DEEP spokesman.

Of course the project also is subject to federal land-use laws.

Still, constructing a big building on a small piece of land next to the water is not quite so daunting if you are part of the federal government.

New London did leave one string attached to the deed it gave to the admiral last week. The deed to the adjacent lot that soon will be sold to Cross Sound Ferry Services will have some similar strings.

Reverter language in both deeds will allow the city to reclaim the parcels after 10 years if a museum hasn't been built. The ferry company, to avoid giving the land back, must build a ferry terminal, in conjunction with the museum, which includes both a ticket counter and waiting area for passengers.

This means the ferry company also will have a particular interest in seeing the museum built.

The ferry company must abide by city land-use rules, of course, since their new property won't be owned by the Coast Guard.

Adm. Papp, who is about to retire, dropped a lot of hints last week that helping plan and raise money for the museum will be one of his post-retirement projects.

He noted that, as commandant, he is forbidden from raising money. But that prohibition soon will end.

A native of Norwich and a history buff, Papp seems poised to work hard to make the National Coast Guard Museum in New London a reality.

Certainly, fundraising should go more smoothly when a former Coast Guard commandant is the one asking for the money.

And something tells me Papp did not become commandant because he's a slacker.

This is the opinion of David Collins

d.collins@theday.com

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