Plans for a National Coast Guard Museum have been in the works for decades, but this year that vision is closer to becoming a reality.
You can now get some idea of what to expect at a Coast Guard exhibit up at the State Capitol. The exhibit officially opens Thursday with a ribbon cutting ceremony.
The Capitol is abuzz as the legislative session begins. In the underground concourse between the Capitol and the Legislative Office Building, where there were blank walls, there is now an exhibit showcasing the U.S. Coast Guard.
“This is the culmination of about three to four months of work,” said Commander Krystyn Pecora, Coast Guard Academy External Affairs Officer.
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Members of the Coast Guard set up the extensive display Tuesday. Half of the exhibit focuses on the organization’s work throughout the nation.
“It’s covering just the basic origins when the Coast Guard originated in 1790, and gives you a little bit of a timeline hinting at some of the hallmark achievements of the organization,” said Petty Officer Third Class Matt Abban, Coast Guard Academy External Affairs Officer Public Affairs Specialist.
Those achievements policing international waters, and environmental protection.
“From law enforcement, to search and rescue, to aids to navigation,” Abban said. “Ice breaking up in the Arctic and down to the Antarctic, to just oil spill clean ups.”
The Coast Guard also holds the huge responsibility of saving lives.
“On 9/11, not everybody knows it, but the organization actually moved out 500,000 people from the Manhattan area to safety,” Abban said.
The other half of the display is dedicated to the Coast Guard in Connecticut.
“It's home to the Coast Guard Academy, as well as so many units and the Coast Guard has actually made its home in Connecticut since 1791,” Pecora said. “Our first revenue cutter was stationed in New London. We're proud to call Connecticut our home."
The 240-foot exhibit is just a preview of what is to come in at 80,000 square-foot, five-story museum in New London.
“We like to say it's going to be five decks and thousands of stories,” said Drew Forster, National Coast Guard Museum Association Director of Communications.
Renderings from the National Coast Guard Museum Association show plans for the museum, which is in the final stages of permitting. The project needs to go through a Supplemental Environmental Assessment on the federal level, and it needs dredging permits to be approved by the state.
“We are hopeful that we will be able to break ground on this museum this year,” Forster said.
It is a $150-million project, funded by $30-million in federal dollars and $20-million from the state, along with fundraising.
“We're past the halfway point, we're actually over $81 million toward that goal,” Forster said.
He adds that the National Coast Guard Museum is expected to bring $10-million into the New London economy each year.
Once the museum is complete, guests will be able to visit five themed wings.
“I really am enamored of the Katrina exhibit,” Forster said. “It's going to be an immersive exhibit to really take people into the Coast Guard's role in serving people during that natural disaster.”
The museum will also have an emphasis on STEM technology and activities for kids.
“Young people will be able to come in and catch a vision for maybe a future career in the Coast Guard,” Forster said.
State Representative Anthony Nolan, 39th District of New London, helped facilitate the Capitol display.
“This is the exact kind of exhibit that we need to be displaying throughout Connecticut to show people how great the Coast Guard is,” Nolan said.
He believes a museum will bring value to New London.
“I really do,” Nolan said. “I think that it will bring hundreds of thousands of people into this area and help our economy grow.”
Members of the Coast Guard also look forward to the honor, and hope the displays inspire the next generation.
“We're just so overwhelmed with the opportunity to present the Coast Guard and its history to the people of Connecticut,” Pecora said. “We are just really, really grateful that Connecticut's taking the time to honor our service.”
Some people who live in New London are opposed to the National Coast Guard Museum being built in the downtown area, and raised an objection with the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection last summer.
The complaint cites concerns that the museum would negatively impact future developments on the coast and water activities, and that there are other locations that would have less damage on the environment.
In August, DEEP responded that the museum development plan is consistent with Connecticut’s coastal management policies, which are approved by the federal government. There are some plans for features in the water that still need separate authorization.
Forster said the National Coast Guard Museum Association has no plans to move the location, and that the Coast Guard selected the location because three million people pass through downtown each year.
The Coast Guard exhibit at the Capitol will be on display for three weeks.