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This dream is a nightmare: Proposed Coast Guard Museum runs contrary to well-thought-out land use plans, common sense

By ROBERT FROMER

Publication: The Day

Published March 02. 2014 4:00AM
Left, an artist's rendering of the proposed United States Coast Guard Museum adjacent to Union Station in New London.

The proponents of the National Coast Guard Museum - which should more aptly be called the "Glass Monstrosity" - are driving a political steamroller that attempts to foist a building upon the New London waterfront that will defile the railroad station and surrounding landscape, all under the desperate hallucinatory vision of economic development for the city.

Since 2000, I have actively opposed and will continue to oppose constructing the museum. It would be a colossal mistake. Federal law states that the Coast Guard may create a museum in the vicinity of the Coast Guard Academy, but does neither declare that such facility is mandatory nor in the national interest.

Additionally, I oppose the Museum because:

• There are five existing and active Coast Guard museums around the country, including at the Academy, with thousands of artifacts;

• The Academy's Facility Master Plan for its museum (updated in 2010) recommends relocation to Fort Trumbull;

• The prior site selection committee appointed by the then commandant in 2005 strongly recommended Fort Trumbull;

• In 2006, the former Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection strongly urged siting the facility at the Fort to compliment the state park;

• The proposed building has the wrong orientation to take advantage of solar energy;

• The proposed pedestrian overpass is not a recommended project in the Regional Transportation Plan;

• The building is not a water dependent use on a site suitable for such development, as required under the Coastal Management Act ("CMA");

• Physical museums are an anachronism in the 21st Century; and

• It would be a gross waste of energy considering the alternative of a virtual museum using three-dimensional holographic images of all artifacts.

Although the proponents continually allege that the Coast Guard is the only branch of the services without a museum, this is not the case. The Coast Guard Museum Northwest in Seattle, Wash. is dedicated to preserving the service's heritage in the Northwest. It has thousands of artifacts; a library of over 3,000 books and periodicals; over 2,500 historical documents; clippings and vessel plans; over 15,000 photographs; numerous detailed ship models; portions of historic ships; uniforms; lenses from lighthouses and buoys; and the Coast Guard flag carried on the first Space Shuttle flight.

Further, there is the Old Coast Guard Station Museum in Virginia Beach honoring and preserving the history of Virginia's maritime heritage, coastal communities, the U.S. Lifesaving Service, and services along the Atlantic coast. In 2000, the Cape Blanco Heritage Society opened the Port Orford Lifeboat Station in Oregon as a museum and interpretive center.

Also, there is the former Coast Guard Life Saving Station, now restored as the Sleeping Bear Point Coast Guard Station Maritime Museum in Glen Haven, Mich. The exhibits focus on the U.S. Life-Saving Service and Great Lakes shipping history. In the summer, demonstrations are given of rescue drills and equipment used to fire a rescue line from shore. Finally, there is the Military Sea Services Museum, Sebring, Fla., containing artifacts and exhibits. And, don't forget the Coast Guard Alaska series on the Weather Channel.

With 137 million objects, the Smithsonian Institution has launched a new 3-D scanned hologram and printing initiative to make its collection accessible to schools, researchers and the public worldwide. Physical museums are obsolete. The Coast Guard could provide viewing of all artifacts over the Internet.

Under Coastal Management rules, the city must give the highest priority and preference to water-dependent uses requiring water access. The museum does not qualify as water dependent because it does not require such access. Locating the sailing ship Eagle at City Pier would not make the museum water dependent - it must qualify alone.

With five existing museums, the latest digital technology available for scanning and displaying artifacts on the worldwide web, the lack of water dependency, the incorrect orientation of the building for solar access, the problematical future of funding for operations, and a modernistic structure defiling the historic landscape, the preferred alternative is a virtual Internet museum.

However, if a museum is to be built, it should be in Fort Trumbull.

Robert Fromer is an environmental activist and former New London resident. He now lives in Windsor.

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