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Lewiston to receive grant and volunteer help to restore Veterans Memorial Park

Sun Journal - 5/1/2024

May 1—LEWISTON — The L&A Veterans Council will receive a grant and volunteer help this month to kickstart renovations to Veterans Memorial Park, which sustained heavy damage in a December flood.

The park, which lies along the Androscoggin River, has sat mostly untouched since the winter storm took out several of its monuments, washed away benches and damaged the grounds. Stone pedestals holding up a Korean War-era Jeep and naval gun are still listing to one side.

"The Jeep looks like the Leaning Tower of Pisa," Veterans Council chairman Jerry DeWitt said.

The 1960s-era tank that was placed at Veterans Memorial Park is surrounded by flood water from the Androscoggin River Wednesday in Lewiston. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

On May 14, the council will receive a $20,000 grant from the American Rental Association Foundation and the Toro Company Foundation, which will also donate volunteers and equipment to work on the park in collaboration with the council and Lewiston Public Works.

DeWitt said he's happy that work to restore the park is coming after a few months of questions over how to move forward.

"We're very fortunate to have them select us as a project and support us as much as they are," he said, regarding the grant.

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The initial work will include building a temporary road that will allow a crane to access the property and move the Jeep and naval gun to higher ground. DeWitt said once those pieces are moved, the city will rebuild the area with new material after much of it was washed away in the flood.

Immediately following the flood, DeWitt said he contacted the crane company, but they were told there was no way to safely get the equipment in. He said the Cote Corp. is volunteering its services for the job.

The road will have to be roughly 180 feet long and 14 feet wide. While cranes were used to place the monuments there, DeWitt said too much of the ground was washed away.

The plan, he said, is to have the city's portion of the job completed by July, though some remaining work could take place in the months leading up to Veterans Day in November.

A 51 mm gun from a Naval ship and an Army Jeep at Veterans Memorial Park are overcome by the Androscoggin River in Lewiston during the December 2023 storm. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

The L&A Veterans Council is also planning to host a Memorial Day ceremony at the park — on the upper level — at 10 a.m. Saturday, May 25.

Kevin Gagne, Public Works director, said the city is planning to contract out the work to restore the site, and after the Jeep and naval gun are reinstalled, they will install loam and seed, pave the walkways and work with the council on reinstalling other granite monuments and benches.

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"The goal is to have the park open for Fourth of July festivities," he said.

"I'm thankful for this grant and the volunteers who are lending a hand to help restore the damage caused by the flood," Mayor Carl Sheline said Wednesday.

"Veterans Memorial Park is more than just a pretty spot to enjoy the river, it's hallowed ground that represents the lives given to defend our country and the commitment to service that has long existed in our community."

Other items that are still missing include a time capsule, which the council is hoping to find. The council is offering a $200 reward to anyone who finds the capsule, which is a casket that washed downriver during the flood. A photo of the casket during the storm went viral, with many people speculating that it washed away from a cemetery.

Veterans Memorial Park in Lewiston is seen Wednesday, four months after a December 2023 storm dislodged monuments and and military equipment as the Androscoggin River raged past it. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

DeWitt said if they get it back, he'll secure it so it never washes away again.

"We're moving forward," he said, adding that he's excited to get to work.

The American Rental Association Foundation, headquartered in Moline, Illinois, is a nonprofit dedicated to supporting the equipment and event rental industry, and its work to help Lewiston is one of several "impact projects" the organization supports throughout the country.

Several groups across Maine also donated to the council following news of the damage in December.

According to a news release about the grant, volunteers will arrive at 8 a.m.May 14 for a short welcome and presentation from the American Rental Association Foundation. Road construction and debris cleanup will take place throughout the day, with work scheduled to conclude at 3 p.m.

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