AMESBURY — Should the eight residents who live on Amesbury's Deer Island need police assistance during the next 18 months, they shouldn't be surprised if an out-of-town police officer knocks on the door first.
While the island is considered part of Amesbury, the bridge connecting it to the rest of the town was closed last Monday. So for the next 18 months, Newburyport is stepping in to help keep order on the island that holds a couple homes and a popular fishing and birdwatching park.
The 1st Lt. Derek Hines Bridge, linking Amesbury to Newburyport via the Chain Bridge, will be demolished and replaced with a new superstructure and an almost completely new substructure. The $34 million project is expected to take 18 months.
Amesbury police Lt. Kevin Ouellette said emergency calls involving Deer Island will be answered by a department dispatcher who will then call Newburyport police so they can respond first. Local police will respond to emergency calls as well, but like the thousands of motorists who traveled over the Hines Bridge, they will have to follow detour signs that take them a few miles out of their way.
Local police will respond to non-emergency calls such as noise complaints on their own.
"We'll go, but it will take us a while to get there," Ouellette said, of non-emergency calls.
Police are likely to be using the detour often, as Deer Island is home to a small park that attracts not only fishermen but outdoor drinking parties.
In the days leading up to the closure, Ouellette sent an e-mail to personnel regarding the department's arrangement with Newburyport.
It's an arrangement Amesbury firefighters have been using since the Hines Bridge first closed back in 2008 when a barge struck the northern pier, moving it 8 inches. The bridge was closed temporarily until emergency repairs were made. But even with repairs, the bridge remained too feeble to risk the extra weight of fire engines, ladders and ambulances.
"The bridge has been closed to us since the bridge was hit," Amesbury fire Chief Jon Brickett said.
Despite the bridge's closure and potential for emergency response delays, one resident said he wasn't concerned.
William Rudolph, who lives at 1 Deer Island, said when his wife was having an emergency during the first set of bridge repairs back in 2008, rescue units from both Newburyport and Amesbury arrived in about five minutes.
"I feel very confident, actually, after the last incident," Rudolph said.
When Rudolph first heard of the most recent bridge closure, he said he called Mayor Thatcher Kezer and was assured the same arrangement between Newburyport and Amesbury would remain in place.