Work Begins to Assess Needs at Pier 7 at Fort Trumbull
By: Greg Smith
April 9, 2019
New London — Members of the Connecticut Port Authority say they are taking the first step to ensure Fort Trumbull State Park remains a tourist attraction and economic driver for the region.
Contractors hired by the authority are set to begin work on one of two piers at the park, investigating the extent of upgrades needed to allow its continued use as a host site for large military vessels, tall ships and cruise ships. Work crews contracted by the U.S. Coast Guard were at the pier this week in work not connected to the CPA's Pier 7 project. The Coast Guard is preparing the pier to be the temporary homeport for the USCGC Eagle.
The port authority obtained $750,000 from the state for the design and engineering work and solicited proposals last fall. The port authority recently chose GZA GeoEnvironmental Inc. to oversee the work.
The 657-foot pier was constructed in the 1960s to accommodate submarines and part of the Navy Underwater Sound Laboratory.
The final report from GZA is expected to be an assessment of structural rehabilitation options for everything from the electrical and sewer system to lighting and pedestrian access. It will include a final report with design plans, cost estimates and construction documents suitable for public bidding.
As part of the work, a three-person dive team is expected to perform underwater inspection of the pier and steel piles. Test borings, 40 to 50 feet deep, will be drilled into the ground from equipment mounted on barges, while a geotechnical field engineer tests subsurface soils. GZA also will map depths and contours of the river bottom.
“We are excited to get started on the plan for improving Pier 7," said Scott Bates, chairman of the Connecticut Port Authority. “This new design phase will let us know what exactly needs to be fixed to continue attracting large vessels to the region.”
Bates said the authority is “committed to making the upgrades necessary for its continued safety and accessibility.”
Funding will be needed to perform any upgrades recommended in the report, with early estimates between $5 million and $7 million. Any work will be done in coordination with the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, the entity that owns the park and pier.
Evan Matthews, executive director of the port authority, said along with being an important piece of the state’s maritime infrastructure, the larger goal is to help grow the state’s economy.
Crowds gather at the city's waterfront and at Fort Trumbull each year to climb aboard one of the large military ships that docks at the pier for the multiday Connecticut Maritime Heritage Festival, a descendant of the OpSail 2000 event that brought tall ships to New London. The U.S. Navy Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Lassen (DDG-82) was docked at the pier for the event last year.
Plans already are underway for next year’s festival, even as OpSail Connecticut entertains an offer from Tall Ships America to host a group of tall ships in 2020, part of a procession of ships gathering along the East Coast in conjunction with the anniversary of Pilgrims landing at Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts.
Robert Ross, executive director of the Connecticut Office of Military Affairs and a former commissioner of the Connecticut Maritime Commission, the port authority’s predecessor, said the pier cannot continue to host the large combatant ships from the Coast Guard and Navy without structural and utility issues being addressed.
“Like anything else, if you don’t maintain things, they deteriorate,” Ross said. "My interest is protecting that asset. The Navy and Coast Guard are interested in sending ships to New London. That's an economic driver and a great opportunity to educate people about the state's maritime history."
Both Ross and New London Mayor Michael Passero said that for practical reasons, they would like to see the port authority maintain management of the pier.