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Kittery says no to money for Memorial Bridge lights

PORTSMOUTH - A project to illuminate the new Memorial Bridge is on hold.

On Monday, the Kittery Town Council voted against a proposal from the Portsmouth City Council regarding the establishment of a joint trust fund to pay for the long-term maintenance of the lights.

At the same time, the Portsmouth City Council voted to loan $36,000 to the Memorial Bridge Illumination Subcommittee, bringing them to the total needed to fund almost the entire lighting project.

So far, the committee has raised $125,000. Subcommittee chairman Peter Somssich said it will take about $150,000 to light everything but the center span, which adds another $50,000 to the cost.

Because the funds are being raised privately, the NH DOT is requiring an agreement with the municipalities in for the funds to be properly transferred.

Portsmouth volunteered to take the lead and set up the trust fund to handle donations coming in for both the installation and the first five years of maintenance and utility bills. The two municipalities would be responsible for operation and maintenance costs beyond that.

Somssich said when they presented the proposal to the Kittery Town Council in November, they mentioned this, and the council voted 5-2 to support the project.

"We pointed out . that if you don't want to spend a dime, you can turn off the lights," Somssich said.

The two municipalities have been negotiating how the fund will work since December, but Kittery went through a change in administration in the interim and the agreement was never signed.

Portsmouth City Manager John Bohenko said in the last two weeks they sent a letter over to the acting Kittery town manager asking for the signature to establish the trust fund, and she indicated that the trust had not been fully approved by the Kittery Town Council, leading to the special meeting.

"They had some concerns with committing themselves to operation and maintenance in the future, so they rejected it," Bohenko said.

He will now go back to the Portsmouth City Council at their April 15 meeting and ask them to create a trust with just the City of Portsmouth as signatory.

Later, he will try to work out an inter-municipal agreement, or memorandum of understanding with Kittery on ongoing operation and maintenance costs outside of the trust.

He said NH DOT is being very "patient and very accommodating" as the agreement is worked out, but they need to bring it to conclusion sooner rather than later.

"On April 15 I am going to try and get the city council to do that so the money can go into the trust and we can commit to paying for the lights," Bohenko said.

The committee is hoping to get the lights up on the towers before the Memorial Bridge project is completed in July to minimize the cost by using equipment already in place.

"If later on the crane has to be brought in extra just to put the lights on because we can't do it now, that will add to the expense and we want to avoid that," Somssich said.

Within the next week, the subcommittee is hoping to offer a lighting simulation of one of the towers to show residents how it could look when completed.


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