Veterans voice opposition to possible additions to Armistice Bridge
Belfast — A request to submit a letter of intent for a grant that would allow Our Town Belfast to install seating and additional lighting on the Armistice Memorial Footbridge drew criticism from residents and veterans, who voiced a desire to see the bridge left in its current state during a Nov. 20 City Council meeting.
The public outpouring by concerned residents began after Our Town Belfast gave a brief presentation to the City Council during a previous meeting asking for permission to send a letter of intent seeking grant funding. Our Town Belfast is seeking $132,000 in funding from ArtPlace, which is a national organization comprised of 11 national foundations, eight federal agencies and six banks that focuses on investing in art and culture in communities across the country, according to its website.
Our Town Belfast Executive Director Breanna Bebb said during the meeting that she was glad people were talking about the bridge, but reiterated that the intent of the letter was only to seek funding, and did not mean any changes would be made.
“If the community is against it, we understand,” Bebb said.
In a separate interview, Bebb said that when the initial request to submit the letter was brought before the Council, the idea was only to apply for the funding –– nothing was specifically planned or designed with regard to the bridge. She also stressed that any changes to the bridge would be separate from the organization’s “Please, Be Seated” project.
The letter briefly outlines a handful of possible scenarios the funding could be used for, including the addition of eight elevated seating locations, a computer-operated LED illumination effect and the commissioning of a local landscape artist to create and install a natural screening for a pump station on the east side of the footbridge.
However, that proposal was met with resistance, as veterans and residents expressed their concerns to councilors about allowing any alterations to the bridge. Tim Parker, who spoke on behalf of the local veterans organizations, presented a petition to councilors with 94 signatures, stating, “We oppose any changes to the Armistice Memorial Bridge other than general maintenance needed to preserve the War Memorial as it is.”
The petition also states as its purpose that, “We, the undersigned, are concerned citizens who urge our leaders to act now to protect the Memorial as it is now and forevermore.”
Parker said during an interview Tuesday, Nov. 27, that the issue that concerns veterans the most regarding the bridge is respect.
“I think the artistic things that are done around town are great, but it’s about boundaries. You don’t put a computer-generated light show on a memorial bridge,” Parker said.
Although Parker said the veterans are concerned about possible changes to the bridge, he said he isn’t against having seating on the bridge. He does, however, feel the seating should fit with the character of the bridge.
“I’m open to seating options with a classic look,” he said.
Belfast resident Rita Horsey referred to an article about the re-dedication of the Armistice Footbridge, saying she was disturbed that the bridge might be used for other purposes.
“Let’s keep the bridge as a war memorial, and not as a place for people to play,” Horsey said.
Concerned residents who signed the petition also included comments such as, “save the bridge;” “keep as is” and “it’s a memorial bridge, not a tourist attraction.” Several residents also referred to the fact many people enjoy fishing off the bridge in the petition.
The Armstice Bridge was formerly known as the Veterans Memorial Bridge when it was dedicated in 1921. However, during the 1960s, the Armistice Bridge was no longer used for vehicular traffic and the larger bridge took the Veterans Memorial Bridge name.
Over the years, the Armistice Bridge began to deteriorate, until a referendum vote in 2004 won approval from residents to renovate the span. The bridge was then renovated and re-opened in 2006.
During the ceremony, a new replica plaque with the names of the 55 Waldo County soldiers killed in World War I was unveiled. The original plaque went missing during the 1960s and was not replaced until the Friends of the Bridge raised $4,000 to pay for the reproduction.
Tammy Lacher-Scully, who was a member of the Friends of the Bridge, explained that the bridge was designed to look a specific way, and was concerned that any changes could alter the character of the bridge.
Former Our Town Belfast Director Dorothy Havey briefly spoke about lighting the bridge during the holidays, noting that she never received any complaints from residents.
Havey, who said her father served in World War II, said she liked to think he would have enjoyed seeing the bridge lit up for the holidays.
Councilor Mike Hurley responded to some of the concerns voiced by opponents to the seating and lighting on the bridge. Hurley questioned whether the Armistice Footbridge is a war memorial, and noted that people fish off it and cut fish heads on the railing.
During an interview Tuesday, Nov. 27, Hurley elaborated on his comment about the bridge being a war memorial. “It is not a war memorial,” Hurley said. “To me, Gettysburg is a war memorial.”
Hurley also compared the Armistice Footbridge to City Park, noting that the park is also dedicated to veterans. He said residents have not complained about the activity that occurs in the park despite that distinction.
“I would not contest who it’s named after. Because you named it, does that mean you can’t put a bench on it?” Hurley asked in reference to the Armistice Footbridge.
Addressing the points made by Hurley, Parker said the difference to the veterans is how the various memorials around the city were designed and what their intended function is.
No action was taken during the Council meeting regarding the possibility of seating and additional lighting being installed on the bridge.
Republican Journal reporter Ben Holbrook can be reached at 338-3333 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.