Rats! Portsmouth restaurant challenging city deck rulesBy Jason Schreiber
Union Leader Correspondent
December 15. 2017 12:09AM
PORTSMOUTH — A growing rat problem in downtown Portsmouth is now part of a court battle over the city’s requirement that outdoor decks be enclosed.
In an affidavit filed Wednesday in Rockingham County Superior Court, Kim McNamara, the city’s health officer, expressed concerns about rats and the threat to public health.
McNamara’s warning about rodents was made in response to a lawsuit filed against the city earlier this year by the Portsmouth Gas Light Co., a popular restaurant and bar that’s fighting a requirement that its outdoor deck bar equipment be enclosed when not in use.
In court paperwork, restaurant owner Paul Sorli explained that the legal wrangling began after a fire in December 2015 that required significant rebuilding; he claims the deck wasn’t affected physically by the fire.
According to Sorli, the health officer sent a letter to the restaurant in March 2016 requiring for the first time in 26 years that the outdoor bars be enclosed before a food permit would be issued.
Sorli has argued that the city had no ordinance requiring the enclosure of outdoor bars, but moved to adopt new regulations after the lawsuit was filed in January.
The city denies the claims, saying a decision for all fire, building and health codes to be updated was made by the City Council at an April meeting in response to a fire on State Street that burned three buildings and destroyed the State Street Saloon
McNamara’s concerns about rats and the need to enclose decks were outlined in this week’s court filing.
She wrote that since 2015, the city has seen an increase in reports of sightings of live and dead rats. She also reported an increase in the number and size of burrows.
“These reports and sightings have come from city residents and business owners in the downtown area. The public health concern about the rats on plaintiff’s outdoor bar is supported by a complaint made by plaintiff Paul Sorli ...,” she wrote.
According to McNamara, Sorli called the health department to report seeing rats leave his deck and head over to the High-Hanover parking garage.
“This fact, coupled with the general increase of rat population in the city, requires protection of all outdoor bar equipment in the city to prevent the spread of disease,” McNamara’s affidavit said.
McNamara wrote that she has consistently required all outdoor bar equipment to be enclosed “or protected by other means.”
“All outdoor bars in the city except the plaintiff’s have met these public health requirements ...,” she wrote.