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Coast Guard's Eagle moving to City Pier in New London, Conn.

U.S. Coast Guard Barque Eagle (WIX 327) arrives in New York City on Aug. 15, 2019.

CORY D. PAYNE/U.S. AIR FORCE

By GREG SMITH | The Day, New London, Conn. | Published: April 7, 2021

NEW LONDON, Conn. (Tribune News Service) — The Coast Guard Barque Eagle has secured priority docking at City Pier that will allow it to call New London's waterfront home for at least 20 years.

The City Council on Monday approved a license agreement with the Coast Guard that provides a berth for the Eagle adjacent to the future National Coast Guard Museum — the $100 million facility to be built behind Union Station.

Mayor Michael Passero said having the Eagle, known as America's Tall Ship, as a feature of the city's waterfront was always part of the long-term vision for the city and museum. "That's been our goal for many years and goes hand in hand with development of the Coast Guard museum. We expect that area of the waterfront to be transformed over the next couple of years," he said.

An iconic view of the Eagle from the downtown, Passero said, fits in with the city's economic development and branding efforts.

The license agreement with the Coast Guard grants the ship docking privileges, preferably on the south side of City Pier, whenever it is in the city. In the event another ship is docked there, it will use the north side of the dock.

The agreement is for 20 years, at $1 per year, with provisions to extend Eagle's stay for an additional 10 years. The city acknowledges that the Coast Guard may take steps to provide security during its stay, along with any necessary upgrades to the infrastructure.

While the Eagle has called New London its home port for many years, its permanent location has been at the state-owned Fort Trumbull.

Coast Guard Capt. Michael Turdo, commanding officer of the Eagle, said Fort Trumbull has been a wonderful host but he looks forward to being in a more visible and accessible location in coming years.

Turdo was executive officer of the Eagle from 2011 to 2014 and recalls that, during a two-week stay at City Pier, he observed more visitors than in the entire two years he had spent at Fort Trumbull.

"I think it will be a great draw for the city. We're excited for the move," Turdo said.

He said the plan is to have the Eagle on the city's waterfront as early as the end of 2022.

The Eagle typically offers regular topside tours open to the public, though all tours have been halted during the coronavirus pandemic. It's unclear when tours might resume.

The 295-foot Eagle, which is used as a training vessel for cadets at the Coast Guard Academy, has a sailing season from mid-February or March through September. During that time, it is out on various excursions often lasting two weeks. Maintenance occurs in the winter.

The Eagle is the only active-duty sailing vessel in military service.

The ship's privileges at City Pier are not exclusive and the city maintains a right, as per the new agreement, to permit other vessels to dock there. But the city agrees that with 72-hour notice from the Eagle, it will make efforts to ensure the Eagle has first priority on the south side of the pier.

Dockmaster Barbara Neff said the south side of the dock currently is occupied by the supply vessel "Go Pursuit," which has a three-year lease with the city at $3,333 per month for the first two years and $3,500 per month for the third year.

She said the move to bring in Eagle as a permanent fixture was always expected and she expects other vessels that might have docked throughout the year at City Pier could be accommodated in other spots along the waterfront. The Amistad, for example, uses Custom House Pier when it visits the city.

Neff said docking for a ship similar in size to the Eagle would run about $800 per day but the city has never charged any of the Coast Guard vessels to dock in New London. She agreed with Passero and said seeing the "million-dollar view" of the Eagle at the waterfront is a special sight and brings in foot traffic.

The lack of payments to the city was one of the reasons Councilor John Satti said he voted against the agreement. He was the only dissenting vote and said the city's revenue, had the city charged for docking fees, would top $1.6 million over the 20 years of the agreement. He also said the city should have factored in depreciation of the pier, a valuable city asset, as part of the negotiations with the Coast Guard.

Turdo said he expected the Coast Guard to make some improvements at the pier to help accommodate the Eagle — things such as larger bollards and infrastructure upgrades to water, sewer and phone lines. Upgrades to the pier would be paid for by the Coast Guard and owned by the city.

Drew Forster, a spokesman for the U.S. Coast Guard Museum Association, said having the Eagle next to the future museum will add to the overall experience for visitors. While there is no timeline for the start of construction of the museum, he said the fundraising for the museum has passed the halfway point, with over $75 million in funding secured, "an important milestone for us."

"We're happy donors have responded even during the pandemic," he said.

Built in 1936, the Eagle originally operated as a training ship for cadets in the German Navy. The ship was handed over to the U.S. as a reparation after World War II and sailed from Germany to New London in 1946.

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