Anthony Cronin, The Day, Connecticut, November 12, 2006
The Dow Chemical plant in Gales Ferry, just upriver on the Thames from the Naval Submarine Base in Groton, shared the burden of needed maintenance dredging. PHOTO: SEAN D. ELLIOT
A unique partnership between the U.S. Navy and the Dow Chemical Co. plant in Gales Ferry, brokered by the regional chamber of commerce, has moved mountains — of dredging materials, that is.
The successful partnership has also ensured that the specialized manufacturing jobs at the Dow plant are secure because the dredging vital to the plant’s future has been completed, thanks to help from the nearby submarine base in Groton.
Tony Sheridan, president of the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut, says his group brokered the public-private partnership between the submarine base and Dow Chemical — which are both active chamber members — earlier this year because they are essential players in the region’s $13 billion economy.
Sheridan explains that the Groton base’s dredging project produced clean fill. The Dow plant, meanwhile, needed to dredge a portion of the nearby Thames River to accommodate ships arriving with millions of pounds of manufacturing materials each month for making Styrofoam — and it needed to cap those dredging spoils in state-approved dumping grounds with clean fill.
The result was a sort of “dredging-in-tandem” project, which saved months of work as well as hundreds of thousands of dollars for Dow while also protecting the river.
Sheridan says the partnership involved discussions with Dow officials, submarine base officials, state environmental officials and chamber associates. “We communicated their mutual needs to the other — and took an active role right away,” he adds.
The Dow plant, a longtime local employer, is a specialized manufacturer that employs more than 100 workers and contractors at its Gales Ferry plant. The site manufactures a variety of plastics products, including latex and Styrofoam for customers ranging from the paper, food and packaging industries to the appliance and automotive industries.
The nearby 687-acre submarine base supports more than 70 various commands, including its 17 submarines, the Naval Submarine School and housing and support facilities. The base, which is located mostly in Groton with a small portion extending into Ledyard, has more than 21,000 civilian workers, active-duty service members and their families, representing a significant annual contribution to the eastern Connecticut economy.
If the dredging project couldn’t be completed in a timely manner, the Dow plant’s future could have been jeopardized, according to chamber officials. “The (dredging) issue,” explains Sheridan, “was critical to the success of both Dow Chemical and the naval submarine base.”
Eastern Connecticut’s economy has seen an erosion of manufacturing jobs over the years, especially in specialized manufacturing such as that found at the Dow plant. Manufacturing today represents about 13 percent of the region’s work force of about 138,000.
While that percentage has fallen over the years, it’s still higher than the statewide work force. Connecticut has about 194,000 manufacturing jobs across its eight counties, which represents about 11 percent of the state’s work force of some 1.8 million.
Dredging of river materials is closely monitored by environmental officials. The state’s Department of Environmental Protection supported the partnership between the sub base and the Dow plant. State DEP officials, whom Sheridan praised for their flexibility and willingness to help with the projects, worked with Dow and the base to ensure the safety and protection of the river. The DEP also allowed Dow and the Groton base to work on the same timeline with their respective dredging projects.
Chamber officials also said that former Navy captain Denny Hicks, who now serves as the chamber’s director of strategic planning, was essential in gaining the permitting approval for the dredging.
Hicks says his military background and experience helped with the permitting process. He says that both Dow Chemical and the naval submarine base are “major economic drivers of the region” so that chamber and the partners are “pleased with what’s been accomplished.”