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Tanker owner fights NH, Maine on bridge costs


PORTSMOUTH - The owner of the tanker that collided with the Sarah Mildred Long Bridge April 1 is fighting a civil lawsuit filed by the states of Maine and New Hampshire to recoup over $2 million in repair costs.

In a May 14 answer to the complaint filed with the U.S. District Court in Concord, the German owners and operators of the M/V Harbour Feature, Sechste Nordtank-Hamburg GmbH & Co. KG and TB Marine Shipmanagement GmbH & Co. KG, deny most of the state's claims and request that the suit be dismissed.

They are also seeking return of a $2.4 million special bond that was posted in lieu of placing the M/V Harbour Feature "under arrest" in Portsmouth Harbor.

The plaintiffs and the vessel owner agreed to a $2.47 million bond, the estimated amount of the bridge damage, in place of the vessel's arrest.

In their complaint, filed April 4, the states allege that negligence on the part of the tanker's crew allowed the 473-foot vessel to come loose from the state pier and collide with the bridge, causing "extensive physical damage."

The bridge was closed to vehicular traffic from April 1 to May 13 while repair work was done.

Through their Portland, Maine-based attorneys, the ship owners argue that the states are guilty of negligence to such a degree as to bar or reduce their recovery. The companies also argue for damages for the costs of temporary and permanent repairs to the vessel and the costs arising from delay and loss of use of the vessel.

Lastly, they argue that the repairs to the bridge constitute an "improvement or betterment" of the bridge and constitute the installation of new structures and components in place of old and depreciated structures, and therefore, they are entitled to a reduction in the damages claimed.

The Sarah Mildred Long Bridge is New Hampshire's number one "red-listed" bridge, meaning it is the bridge most in need of repair. Replacement of the bridge is expected to begin in 2014, if funding is in place.

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