Friday, March 4, 2011

Coginchaug Boat Launch Gets Snagged on Bureaucratic Obstacles

The efforts of the Jonah Center for Earth and Art and its project committee, the Coginchaug River Action Group (CRAG), to get a kayak and canoe launch on the Coginchaug River have progressed past slogging through marshland and mud in search of a feasible location, only to be tangled up in agency requirements and snagged in a slow permitting process. Here’s some brief background and a summary of the current status.

The Jonah Center worked with the City to secure a $50,000 grant from the U.S. Dept. of Transportation (DOT) in 2007. The grant works on a reimbursement basis, that is, the City will be reimbursed for funds expended on the project after they are spent. Prior to initiating the project, it must first be “under contract” with the CT Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), which administers the grant for the U.S. DOT. But in order to get the project under contract, the city must first obtain certain permits (required by the DEP and the Army Corps of Engineers), which can only be granted after the city files the detailed engineering plans needed to properly assess the potential environmental impacts of the project. These will cost somewhere between $5,000 and $15,000.

Matt Dodge (Middletown Department of Planning, Conservation and Development staff) has been trying to determine exactly what information each agency is looking for, so we can provide a single set of drawings and avoid the cost, time and delay of customizing plans for each agency recipient. Current snow depth on the site, which is just north of the railroad tracks at the intersection of North Main and Johnson Streets, makes it impossible to perform the wetland flagging that some permits require. Even when these requirements are met, the project may have to get approvals from Middletown land use commissions and the Common Council, and the contract will have to be approved by the CT Attorney General’s office before it is signed by the DEP and the City.

The Jonah Center and CRAG resurrected the launch project last spring, and began working with the City to identify a site and the project scope. The Mayor has declared his support, and we’ve heard public support. We are ready to help with the educational components of the project, organize volunteers to help build the trail, and provide feedback on launch layout. We are also communicating with City and State staff to try to nudge the project along, and are prepared to provide more of a push if necessary.

Stay tuned. Who knows what will be needed to ensure the project’s completion? Whatever it takes, the actual construction of the kayak and canoe launch will be easy and joyful by comparison.


Matt Dodge said...

John, I agree with the last part of your comment.

Correction: the City must go under contract BEFORE we can pay an engineer to produce signed/sealed engineered drawings to fulfill permit requirements. We cannot spend funds before we are under contract as the state WILL NOT reimburse us.

The contract documents have been delayed due to the DEP bureaucratic process and now by the AG's office need to revise all of its boilerplate language. I've been assured that we'll have the revised contract in 2-3 weeks. Once in hand we'll be able to put together the required documentation.

The entire process, while based on sound environmental principals doesn't always equate with an efficient path to fruition.

We'll stay positive and keep moving forward!

John Hall said...

Thanks for that clarification, Matt. I was under the impression from original comments by the DEP and the Office of Long Island Sound Programs that the engineering plans had to be produced IN ORDER to get the project under contract. I'm relieved to hear that that Catch 22 seems to have been resolved, by the DEP Trails Grant department letting the City get the contract accomplished first.

Anonymous said...

This will be a great addition to Middletown. I might even finally get a kayak or canoe just to use it. What happens when you hit the CT River in a canoe? Where can you take out?

John Hall said...

On the Connecticut River, from the mouth of the Mattabesset you can paddle upstream to a take out at the south end of River Road in Cromwell, or you can paddle downstream to Harbor Park where you can take out at the boathouse ramp. Or, you can paddle upstream in the Mattabesset to the take out behind the Dunkin Donuts on the Shunpike in Cromwell. I usually paddle round trips (start and end at the same location) to avoid having to shuttle the car.