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Portsmouth city council candidate says officials can't enforce bridge-jumping ban

By KIMBERLEY HAAS
Union Leader Correspondent

September 13. 2017 12:15AM
Officials in Portsmouth do not want people to jump off the Sagamore Avenue Bridge because they say it is too risky. Longtime residents argue it is a rite of passage for children. (KIMBERLEY HAAS/Union Leader Correspondent)

PORTSMOUTH — A Portsmouth man running for City Council says police do not have the authority to stop people from jumping off the Sagamore Avenue Bridge because there is no ordinance prohibiting it.

Rick Becksted, a local builder, said Tuesday that jumping off the bridge is a time-honored tradition that signifies a rite of passage for Portsmouth children. At about 12 years old, parents teach their kids to jump off the bridge and into the creek below during high tide. They also warn them to stay out of the road.

“I grew up with it as a kid. It was always something people have done,” Becksted said. “I taught my son to jump the same way that was taught to me and my friends.”

Police Capt. Frank Warchol confirmed last week that there is no city ordinance that prohibits people from jumping off the bridge, but said there are inherent dangers associated with this type of activity.

“To my knowledge, I have never heard of anyone becoming injured by doing this at this bridge, but as with all things, it’s never an issue until someone does in fact hurt themselves or someone else,” Warchol said via email.

Warchol said officers are moving folks along in an effort to discourage jumping.

The city owns the bridge and Department of Public Works Director Peter Rice said officials cannot allow an activity that has such a high potential for injury.

“If someone were hurt, or heaven forbid killed, it would fall on the city for condoning the activity,” Rice said via email.

There are signs posted on both sides of the bridge which say, “No jumping or diving from bridge.”

Rice said additional signage was put up recently due to an increase in activity, which is concerning because Sagamore Creek is a busy waterway for boaters.

“I understand the emotional attachment to what is considered a rite of passage for many kids. However, that does not mean the city has to endorse the activity,” Rice said.

Becksted said that if city officials want to make the ban on bridge jumping enforceable, they need to follow the proper protocol.

“There is a process that has to be followed, and it hasn’t been followed in years,” Becksted said.

Becksted said if he is elected to the City Council, he would suggest having a public hearing on the matter, and if there is support for a ban, the council could create an enforceable ordinance.

Becksted is one of 18 candidates running for the City Council in Portsmouth this fall.


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