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An unabridged view of the city's latest purchase, by John McGauley

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So, the City of Keene walks into a bar and sits next to a guy.

“Hey, buddy,” the guy says. “You’re not from around here, are ya?”

“No.”

“Where from?”

“Over across Temple Mountain way, the Monadnock Region. Ever hear of it?”

“Yeah. Don’t get many folks here from those parts.”

“Yeah, we’re in town to get some provisions. Flour and some beans, some bacon, too.”

“You wouldn’t happen to want to buy a bridge, would ya?”

“Well, I don’t know. Where is it?”

“It’s in the neighborhood. Nice bridge, you know.”

“Good bridge, huh?”

“Yeah.”

“How much?”

“Only a dollar.”

“A dollar? You’re full of it!”

“No, really. A dollar.”

“What’s the catch?”

“You got to move it. And it’s all in parts, you got to weld the thing back together.”

“You sell a lot of bridges, do you?”

“Yeah, we had another last week, but that’s not available now.”

“Where was that?”

“Brooklyn, in New York. Not available anymore.”

I’ve been around here for three decades and this plan to buy a huge, dismantled bridge from the other side of the state, move it here in parts and reassemble and reconstruct it as part of a bike path is the stupidest move the city’s made since it got snookered on the sale of the old Wetterau food warehouse, paying $1 million more than the building’s asking price a day before they signed on the dotted line.

Here’s the deal. There is an old bridge that used to sit over Interstate 93 in Londonderry until it was taken down when the highway was widened. The DOT said the bridge was of some historic architectural value, so they disassembled it and stored it — some might say hid — somewhere in Londonderry.

The DOT sought proposals for ways to reuse the bridge, and Keene’s proposal to reconstruct it over Route 101 as part of the city’s planned Transportation Heritage Trail was ultimately selected.

Ultimately selected? I’ll bet those DOT characters laughed their butts off after they sold a useless bridge nobody else wanted to the yokels in Keene.

The City Council voted unanimously to authorize City Manager Elizabeth Dragon to negotiate the purchase of the bridge — which costs $1 — probably by dipping in to the city hall coffee money.

The Sentinel story about all this contains this sentence that is a wonderful use of understatement:

“While the purchase price for the bridge will be just $1, the cost of getting the bridge to Keene and assembling it will be more costly.”

Oh, and to add to this, there are some strings attached to this hulking, disassembled, massive tonnage of steel that will soon be all ours: the state must inspect the bridge after it is re-assembled, then Keene must submit annual stewardship reports to the state for a decade and … here’s the good part — the city is responsible for all future maintenance.

Is this a good deal or what?

I can tell you with the same certainly that the sun rises in the east that this boondoggle will cost you — the taxpayers — millions, and will be the best example of Murphy’s Law that we, the citizens of Keene, have experienced in many decades.

City engineer Don Lussier said that several years ago, civil engineering students from the University of New Hampshire looked at what it would take to get the bridge to Keene, and this group said their research showed it would be about $20,000

$20,000? Really? You’re going to take the advice of engineering students who don’t know squat yet about the real world of engineering? It’s going to take 10 times that much, even if you find a company that will haul it. This bridge is massive, and you can look up photos on the web of that behemoth as it once stood. Getting that thing from there to here on our narrow, paltry highways will be akin to moving an out-of-control supertanker through the Suez Canal.

Then you’ve got to re-assemble the thing, which is going to take a huge construction company months to accomplish. Then there’s reconstruction, which includes land grading and infrastructure cost of the lead-ups to the bridge.

There will be no end to the cost overruns.

“The bridge is going over Route 101 connecting the Cheshire Rail Trail, Eastern Avenue across to the Stone Arch Bridge,” said Councilor Janis Manwaring, chair of the council’s Municipal Services, Facilities and Infrastructure Committee, which recommended the city move forward with this project.

“So that’s very exciting, to make the rail trail even longer,” she was quoted saying in a Sentinel story.

Exciting, I’d say, is one way to describe this mess.

Dragon noted the bridge can remain stored in its current location for the next 10 years, giving the city time to come up with ways to pay for the bridge to be transported and rebuilt.

This “coming up” with money could include applying for grants or fundraising, Dragon said.

Manwaring, too, said that Pathways for Keene, a nonprofit organization where she serves on the board of directors, will be fundraising for the project as well.

Whenever I hear stuff like that, it always ends up with us taxpayers left at the table, stiffed, holding the bill.

We’ve got a lot of vacant buildings, a shrinking industrial tax base, some of the highest real estate taxes in the country, a nonexistent business development recruitment strategy, unfunded public employee pension funds, homelessness and a big drug addiction problem. We’ve got it all.

And now we’ve got a bridge, too!

John McGauley, an author and local radio talk-show host, writes from Keene. He can be reached at mcgauleyink@gmail.com

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