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Dumpster remains in place despite veterans’ protest

City council OKs dumpster pad at Taft Park

By Scott Bellile

The New London City Council voted 9-1 to pass an ordinance that in effect will keep a recently built dumpster pad near the veterans memorial in Taft Park.

The council’s decision came three days after members of the New London Veterans Memorial Foundation and other local veterans filled the park to protest the council approving the ordinance’s initial reading in October.

Second District Alderman Tom O’Connell cast the lone no vote on both of the city council’s ordinance readings in October and November. He is a Vietnam War-era veteran who attended the Nov. 10 protest.

Jim Jaeger, the New London Veterans Memorial Foundation chairman who organized the protest, told the council prior to its vote that the foundation had a backup plan if the ordinance were passed.

“We’re going to have a meeting next week of our foundation, and if we don’t see any hope of getting that central garbage collection moved, our intent is to get a referendum on the next election ballot, that would be April 2, and let the voters of New London decide,” Jaeger said.

More than 1,500 people have signed a petition demanding the enclosed dumpster pad be relocated, Jaeger said.

Jaeger said five North Water Street business owners who must use the new dumpster told him they were unaware of the plans with the dumpster pad.

As for the community as a whole, Jaeger said, “The general conception is that most people say that it was totally disrespectful of the city even to think about putting a garbage dump there.”

Two New London residents spoke in agreement with Jaeger during a public hearing on the ordinance.

“My name is on that wall. My son’s name is on the wall,” veteran Jim Mullarkey said. “I’m proud that my name is on that wall. I’m proud that my son’s name is on that wall. That garbage dumpster does not belong there at all.”

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New London Veterans Memorial Foundation Treasurer Terry Warning, left, and Public Relations Coordinator Bob Dessort take a break from the protest at Taft Park Nov. 10.Scott Bellile photo

Julie Blohm said she was “disheartened” to watch the vets defend their memorial. She asked the city to take down the dumpster and apologize to the vets.

“I find it appalling and disgusting that all but one of the council members voted to move forward with the dumpster location in such close proximity to that memorial,” Blohm said. “In my mind, that is showing so much disrespect for what I and many others consider to be a sacred and precious area.”

The ordinance only establishes that businesspeople and residents within three blocks on the south side of North Water Street will use a centralized trash collection system.

The ordinance does not state that the collection site must be located next to Taft Park.

When First District Alderman John Faucher asked Mayor Gary Henke if that means the council could vote to move it elsewhere if it does not work in that location, Henke said yes.

However, Henke also said residents have voiced support for the new dumpster pad during a seven-minute defense of the city’s decision.

“We located [the dumpster pad] as unobtrusively as we possibly could down next to Taft Park,” he said.

The city built the dumpster pad along the edge of Taft Park as well as a second one by St. John’s Park in an effort to improve the view of the alley parallel to the Wolf River.

By centralizing trash collection among certain North Water Street building owners and tenants, the two dumpster pads eliminate the need for individual trash bins throughout the alley.

Downtown business owners agreed several years ago that centralized garbage pickup is necessary to improve the appearance of their building facades, Henke said.

He also said that next door to Taft Park, the C&R Waterfront bar has had a dumpster outside for two decades and there have been no issues.

Henke said several years ago the veterans memorial foundation rejected several locations for the memorial, including a vacant half-block lot at the intersection of Beacon Avenue and Mill Street.

New London Mayor Gary Henke addresses veterans who are upset about the city’s placement of an enclosed dumpster pad near Taft Park during a city council meeting on Nov. 13.
Scott Bellile photo

“[The property owner] was willing to donate that land for a veterans memorial, where you could’ve had parking area, you could’ve had more room than you’d have ever needed for a memorial,” Henke said. “You rejected that site. You rejected a couple of other sites that were suggested. You decided you wanted it in Taft Park.”

There is nowhere else for the dumpster pad to go, Henke said. The alley is private property, and placing the dumpster pad in a city-owned parking lot next to the Coppershot bar would have eliminated some downtown parking, he said.

Henke said the city supported the veterans’ undertaking in many ways before and since the memorial’s 2017 opening: By moving the outdoor summer concert series to a different park; by spending public dollars to repair a sidewalk that volunteers broke while installing the memorial; by turning parking stalls next to the Coppershot into handicapped parking for memorial visitors; and by continuing to mow the lawn, water plants and pick up litter at the site.

“I think we’ve worked very cooperatively with you people and we’ve done our best to make it,” Henke told the veterans. “Look, it’s a beautiful memorial, it absolutely is, and I think it can be very successful even with the dumpsters in that spot.”

Henke said the city would be willing to plant arborvitae to mask the dumpster pad from the park.

At a Thursday, Nov. 15 meeting of the New London Capital Projects Committee, Faucher asked city officials to set aside some capital projects dollars next year for either improving the appearance of the dumpster pad or moving it elsewhere.

Finance Director Judy Radke said she would bring the matter back to the committee at its January meeting.


The protest

Veterans with the New London Veterans Memorial Foundation took to Taft Park with picket signs Nov. 10 to express displeasure with the New London City Council’s decision to build the enclosed dumpster pad within view of the park’s war monuments.

The veterans memorial foundation represents American Legion Post 263, Amvets Post 45, VFW Post 2732 and the Manawa Disabled American Veterans Chapter 53.

Steve Frey of New London, an American Legion member who served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War era, said: “I guess it’s a matter of the heart. Here we have the American flag and a memorial to the people who fought for the American flag, and we have the local officials who put the garbage collection site up here. It’s an insult to their memory.”

Veteran Jim Karow said he believes people will visit the memorial to take pictures only to encounter bees and the stenches of food scraps, beer bottles and dirty diapers.

His wife, Carrie Karow, said the memorial is supposed to be a place of reverence, and the veterans and their families who are honored on the wall deserve more respect.

Pete Popke, a Navy veteran who participated in the Bay of Pigs Invasion in Cuba, gave the city credit for trying to improve the look of the alley. But he worries people will blindly toss their garbage over the fence.

“I just foresee a lot of this [trash] not getting into the dumpster,” Popke said.

Vietnam War veteran David Wroblewski, whose name is on the wall along with his father’s and uncle’s, suggested the city instead focus on improving the aesthetics of other things in the alley, such as the paint on the buildings, the hanging wires and the drainage pipes.

The foundation raised hundreds of thousands of dollars in private donations to open the memorial in 2017.

At the center of the memorial is a wall containing 980 names of veterans whose families paid to put their names on the wall.

Jaeger said he received two requests from people to have their names removed from the wall and their money refunded because of the dumpster pad. The requesters had not followed through.

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