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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Fading Glory: Bridge Flags Fall to Budget Cuts

By James Lomuscio

For the past decade, ever since 9-11, the sight of nearly 100 American flags flapping in the breeze on the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge has come to define Westport.WestportNow.com ImageWestportNow.com Image
American flags are gone (top) from Westport’s Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge except for holidays (bottom). (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow (top) and Helen Klisser During (bottom) for WestportNow.com

The flags, their poles affixed to permanent brackets on the downtown bridge over the Saugatuck River, would wave from late April until Thanksgiving.

The only exception was United Nations Day in October, or jUNe Day, celebrated this past weekend and every third Saturday in June, when the flags of U.N. member states flew.

But now, due to municipal budget cuts and the Department of Public Works need to slash expenses,  the flags will go up on major holidays only and come down shortly afterwards, says Stephen Edwards, public works director. 

They will be up the entire Fourth of July weekend, he said, but next week the bridge will be bare. He estimated his department will save about $2,500 in miscellaneous maintenance costs, including flag repairs and replacements.

“It’s not cheap,” he added about the flags flying non-stop over the six-month period.

“It costs us $2,500 a year to maintain them. They get tattered, they fall off and people take them. We replace one-third of them each year, and there’s the question of sending manpower out there to replace them.”

Edwards explained that historically the bridge was lined with flags of different countries on UN Day and American flags on major holidays.

After the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, however, American flags became a fixture for more than half a year.

But this year with $1.1 million cut from the department’s 2010-2011 operating budget by the Board of Finance and only $64,000 restored by the Representative Town Meeting, Edwards said he had to find savings wherever he could.

“It’s an area I thought I could cut back on,” he said. “Now we’ll just put them up for memorial Day, UN Day, Flag Day, Labor Day and July Fourth. And if I just put them up on straight time, I’m not looking at overtime.

“I’m hoping times change and we can put them back in,” Edwards added.”It’s something that separates Westport from other towns and a welcoming sight when you come over the bridge.”

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Posted 06/30/10 at 03:56 PM  Permalink



Comments

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This is indeed sad.  I understand the costs involved and that the town is forced to make the cut.  However, if anyone is interested in starting a fund to maintain this wonderful and meaningful tradtion, I will be the first to contribute to it and would encourage many more to do so.

Posted by AUDREY HERTZEL on June 30, 2010 at 04:32 PM | #
 

I agree Audrey, and I’ll be the second.

I always enjoy seeing them, whether it’s the American flags or the International flags…it’s just nice to see and gives a good feeling.

Posted by John Raho on June 30, 2010 at 05:25 PM | #
 

Just spoke to a very good friend of mine and he had an excellent idea!  As so many did for the riverwalk where you would buy a brick to build the walkway, we should develop some kind of “Sponsor the Flag” campaign to keep this wonderful and meaningful tradition alive!  Does anyone know how many US & UN flags there would be? (Thanks for the great idea FC!)

Posted by AUDREY HERTZEL on June 30, 2010 at 06:22 PM | #
 

I have a quicker way to raise the money.  Let’s collect money online and deliver the needed funds to the department to manage the flags accordingly.  I’ve setup a donate button.  I’ll happily collect the money and distribute it to town.  Donate whatever you wish.  I think these flags are a vital distinguishing characteristic of Westport.

<form action=“https://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr” method=“post”>
<input type=“hidden” name=“cmd” value=“_s-xclick”>
<input type=“hidden” name=“hosted_button_id” value=“XT58VCFD2SC6W”>
<input type=“image” src=“https://www.paypal.com/en_US/i/btn/btn_donateCC_LG.gif” border=“0” name=“submit” alt=“PayPal - The safer, easier way to pay online!”>
<img alt=”” border=“0” src=“https://www.paypal.com/en_US/i/scr/pixel.gif” width=“1” height=“1”>
</form>

Posted by David Sarno on June 30, 2010 at 06:42 PM | #
 

whoops…seems the HTML got stripped out.  PayPal your donation to [email protected]  I’ll update progress on this post.

Posted by David Sarno on June 30, 2010 at 06:44 PM | #
 

Thanks David, but not knowing who you are and blindly sending money to a Paypal account would concern people.  We need to set up a not for profit fund for Flags of Westport and manage it as a properly recognized not for profit organization for the sole purpose of furnishing and mantaining the Flags of Westport.  I believe we will raise the needed funds…if not more!  Again, thanks for your suggestion.

Posted by AUDREY HERTZEL on June 30, 2010 at 07:11 PM | #
 

I agree that it would be great to keep the flags, but suggest before anyone starts sending money anywhere, folks should check with Steve Edwards & Co. to see if he has a mechanism that will allow him to accept funds to replenish his budget for this purpose.

While talking with Steve, perhaps other options might be raised. Could, for example, a volunteer organization take over the labor of taking care of the flags and putting them up, for example? They likely already have the mechanism in place to accept the contributions needed for flag cleaning and replacement.

Posted by Joel Hallas on June 30, 2010 at 07:55 PM | #
 

They are such a fantastic sight and wonderful thing to have in our town to have.  Thank you to all those who have been involved in keeping it up over the years! I’m in support of helping raise any funds needed to continue the operation.

Posted by Billy Nistico on June 30, 2010 at 07:59 PM | #
 

I’ve spoken to Steve Edwards who suggested I speak directly to Gordon Joseloff (of whom I am awaiting a return call.)  I will keep everyone apprised of any new developments.  Thanks to all for your input and support!

Posted by AUDREY HERTZEL on June 30, 2010 at 08:19 PM | #
 

Thank you Audrey for your time and effort. I feel the best way to handle this matter is for ONE person to communicate with the neccesary Town Officials to keep this as simple as possible. Looking forward to your update.

Posted by Lynda Valiante on July 01, 2010 at 01:32 AM | #
 

If Public Works will install and remove American flags three times between Memorial Day and July 4th, why not leave them up for the entire time and perhaps until Labor Day. That would certainly reduce the expense.

Posted by Dick Lowenstein on July 01, 2010 at 11:26 AM | #
 

Hi Audrey et all,
  It seems the ‘keep the flags up’ ball is starting to roll very nicely.
  Just a quick idea…if Gordon gives his o.k. for the private donation support, any chance of volunteers, walking the beach with canisters,, tomorrow night could make a big dent in the needed monies. Flags and 4th of July fire works go together. Usually 2000 or so cars are parked there that night…all carrying more than one person. Multiply that number of cars by $2.00 and you will have your monies…..and, it would cut down on paper work.

Posted by Ann Marie Flynn on July 01, 2010 at 12:39 PM | #
 

I think collecting money on the beach would be great.  Not sure it doesn’t violate the rules at Compo.  I’m not too interested in getting arrested on Friday.  Also, if people came up to me on a beach outing, I’d be really angry.  Solicitation at the beach is pretty bad.  It’s bad enough you get pestered in the movie theater, on the streets in NY.  I’m not sure I would want to trade off a solicitation-free Westport for flags.  However, I am fairly sure that people would donate if they were approached.

Although less expeditious, perhaps we should ask local businesses to put up donation cans.  That wouldn’t be as offensive as being solicited on the beach.

I still think collecting money online is the fastest and easiest way to collect what is needed.

To the point of an earlier poster, perhaps we, as local citizens, take on the task on maintaining the flags.  We would still need money to replace damaged or stolen flags, but having no flags at all is a terrible option.  This is Westport after all!

Posted by David Sarno on July 01, 2010 at 01:07 PM | #
 

WONDERFUL NEWS—FLAGS WILL STAY!

I spoke with Mr. Joseloff and I’m happy to say that a private party has come forward to make arrangements to maintain and keep Old Glory and the UN flags flying proudly on our bridge for a long, long time to come! 

Thanks everyone for your support and input and have a safe and wonderful holiday weekend!

Posted by AUDREY HERTZEL on July 01, 2010 at 03:45 PM | #