By Shawn Regan
---- — HAVERHILL — City Council has signed on to a proposal to add the line “Veterans’ Memorial Bridge” to the new Congressman William H. Bates Bridge that connects the city and the town of Groveland.
David Tuttle, commander of Groveland’s American Legion Post 248, which is leading the charge to amend the bridge’s name, took the request to the council last night.
“This is a thank-you to past, present and future veterans who served this great country,” Tuttle told councilors.
Councilors approved the request unanimously and agreed to send letters to Mayor James Fiorentini and the city’s veterans office asking for their support as well.
Fiorentini has said he supports the idea, but that it is ultimately up to the state to rename the span that crosses the Merrimack River and connects the two communities.
Sen. Bruce Tarr has agreed to carry the request to state officials on behalf of both communities.
Construction of the new bridge is almost finished. It will replace the old and deteriorated Bates Bridge, more commonly known as the Groveland Bridge.
Massachusetts law does not allow a city or town to rename a new bridge that is built to replace a current one. But the name on the replacement bridge can be amended with additional lines of dedication.
“The bridge will recognize all veterans in both communities and it will be a tribute to the congressman’s memory,” said Councilor Michael Hart, who served in the Marine Corps in Vietnam. “And it’s not going to cost us anything.”
The new 775-foot-long span will carry Route 97 traffic between Groveland and Haverhill. The $50 million bridge is scheduled to open in early 2014.
Prior to the council’s vote last night, Groveland resident James Dole asked councilors to support his idea of naming the bridge after Sgt. Willard Ryan and Sgt. Stephen Krajeski, Groveland residents who were killed in the Vietnam War.
“The re-naming of the new bridge would be an honor these families would cherish forever,” said Dole, who suggested installing a plaque honoring the men on the span.
Councilors told Dole they appreciated his suggestion and that they thought it was a noble idea, but that it was up to Groveland officials how to best honor the deceased soldiers. They also stressed their vote last night was symbolic and that only the state can change or amend the bridge’s name with additional lines of dedication.
“I sincerely respect your deep feelings for the matter,” Hart told Dole. “They deserve to be honored and recognized. But generally it’s not government, but the veterans themselves who get this kind of a campaign going.”
Another veteran at the meeting said there was already a plaque honoring Ryan and Krajeski near Groveland town hall.