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Concerns raised about maintenance costs at 9/11 memorial
Bremerton City Councilman Jim McDonald is making no apologies for the fact that no agreements are in place to cover the maintenance costs for the soon to be completed Kitsap 9/11 Memorial on city owned Evergreen Park property.
“Frankly, and I can’t speak for the whole council, I am not really concerned with the maintenance costs of projects like this,” he told the Bremerton Parks Commission Tuesday night. “We’re getting a big benefit from the memorial and it’s really a public gift to us.”
McDonald said that the benefits of the memorial and associated improvements, including irrigation improvements that the city couldn’t afford to do on its own, outweigh any concern over maintenance costs moving forward.
“When the people of France gave the Statue of Liberty to the United States, we didn’t require a maintenance agreement,” McDonald said, noting that no agreements were required for the guns at the corner of Sheridan Road and Wheaton Way, the jet at NAD park and elsewhere in the city. He said those sites and the memorial can be maintained by citizen volunteers.
“We’re happy to get these gifts from people who are willing to donate their time to the public to improve our city,” he added.
Members of the parks commission and other Bremerton residents, though, took exception to McDonald’s comments, noting that various Kitsap 9/11 Memorial Committee members have promised for years that no city funds would be needed to construct or maintain the memorial.
“Councilman McDonald says this is a gift to the city, but they were really clear at council meetings that the the 9/11 memorial committee, which is mostly people that don’t live in the city, swore up and down that they were going to maintain this,” said Bremerton resident Jane Rebelowski.
Rebelowski also questioned how the memorial committee was able to break ground without assurances in place that they would maintain the site.
“I don’t understand how they got any permits without a Memorandum of Understanding in place before a permit was issued because that’s how it works in the rest of the world,” she said.
Bremeton Parks Director Wyn Birkenthal said he estimates it will cost about $4,000 a year to maintain the memorial.
“That’s a guideline I’m putting out there to use,” he said. “It hasn’t been vetted.”
Birkenthal also said he thinks that the 9/11 Memorial Committee will make an initial capital contribution for maintenance once the memorial is completed. He also said that VFW Post No. 239 has shown a lot of interest in moving towards adopting upkeep of the memorial. Apart from McDonald, no members of the 9/11 Committee attended the parks commission meeting.
Parks Commission Chairman John Larson said he put memorial maintenance on Tuesday’s agenda because there have been no updates from the 9/11 Memorial Committee about the status of the project.
“In the discussion and the presentation before us and the selling of us on this project, it was said there will be 10 years of maintenance. It was basically guaranteed to us … they stood up with pride and said, ‘No city money for this,’ including the maintenance. So, we bought into that. That is what was sold to us.”
Larson said that promises were made and they should be honored.
“This memorial is supposed to honor an event and the people that died in it and people that sacrificed their lives trying to save them,” he said. “To have it left for us to even be talking about honoring an agreement is not very good for the memorial, not very good for the intent of it. It sort of cheapens it … I think there is a sense of honor that needs to be restored because it seems to have been cheapened.”
Commission member Bob Dollar noted that he and others spent months on the city’s Park Funding Task Force hearing about how broke the department is.
“There was no more money and we talked about closing parks,” he said by way of prefacing his thoughts about 9/11 memorial maintenance.
Dollar said that he has repeatedly asked about the 9/11 memorial project and its maintenance and never gotten any answers. He said he found out about a week ago that the committee doesn’t want to establish a foundation to maintain the site because they were tired of it and decided back in February that they will “give us what they have left over in their budget and we could figure it out from there.”
Commission member Richard Nerf also weighed in on the burden that maintenance costs can cause the city, noting that there are enormous expenses for maintaining downtown fountains.
“We do need to look gift horses in the mouth, because we have been bitten and bitten badly in the past,” Nerf said.