The culmination of years-long efforts by Montrose resident Bill Babbel to have a new flag pole installed on US Highway 50 was marked by a groundbreaking ceremony on Tuesday, although Babbel did not feel in the festive mood of the other participants.
For Babbel, the location of the flag and the message of an accompanying plaque were far below what he wanted to see when he embarked on the project, thanks to what he sees as obstacles. bureaucratic structures drawn up by the Bureau of Land Management.
But Robbie LeValley, the Delta County Administrator, who helped Babbel complete the flagpole project, hopes a time will come when the flag will put a smile on his face.
“I certainly want to thank him for all his time and dedication to this project. It’s amazing what he was able to do and what he did. I want to thank him and recognize all of his work, ”said LeValley.
Although Babbel attended the ceremony, he expressed his disappointment in an interview afterwards.
“There is a flag over there, there is a pole and the flag that people see coming down the highway but that has nothing to do with the original intention” that he had when undertaking the project, he said. he declared.
Babbel is an Air Force veteran who served in Vietnam and donated or installed flags or poles hundreds of times. He had set out to tackle what he saw as the inadequate flag pole now in place at the site of the popular blue spruce “Christmas tree” planted years ago on the west side of the highway at within the Delta County line between Grand Junction and Delta. His solution was to install a taller pole there that could be lit at night with a solar-powered lighting system, with bulbs too tall for vandals to reach and steal.
But the tree and flagpole are about 70 feet inside what is now the Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area, and the BLM said approval of the flagpole project would have necessitated modification of the area’s resource management plan, a lengthy and potentially costly process. . He says the existing flagpole there was erected without a permit, and the BLM intends to remove it.
The BLM therefore offered Babbel a right of way on the highway for its flag pole. He reluctantly accepted it even though it wasn’t that close to the iconic spruce top, and despite what he said, it’s a lack of parking.
Then came the question of what language a plaque would include on the flagpole site. The plaque honors service members, veterans and first responders, but Babbel also wanted it to honor those who have cared for the “Christmas tree” and the existing flag site over the years. But the BLM disagreed with this language, which Babbel said defeats the purpose of its project, as recognizing these guardians was its goal from the start.
Instead, the new mast “is on the wrong side of the road, there is no parking, the plaque says nothing about the tree or the people (who took care of it) or anything. “, did he declare.
Delta County officials got involved in the project by agreeing to hold the right-of-way permit.
“I saw no problem with the wording that was originally submitted” to the BLM for the plaque, said Delta County Commissioner Mike Lane.
BLM spokesperson Shawn Reinhardt was not immediately able to explain the agency’s reasons for challenging the language of the plaque sought by Babbel, but expressed admiration for Babbel’s efforts to erect the new flag pole.
“It was definitely a business – a few years. It’s impressive, ”said Reinhardt.
LeValley, who worked as an intermediary between Babbel and the BLM on the tongue of the plate, said she understood the BLM was hesitant because of the national conservation area issue, because the Christmas tree did is not native to the area and because of the presence of an existing flagpole in this area.
She said there have been long conversations about the wording of the plaque. “I was trying to get a language that everyone would agree on so that we could move forward,” she said.
Lane said the ideal location for the new mast would have been on the west side of the highway, near the tree.
“Mr. Babbel has fought this battle long and hard over the past four years,” Lane said.
Babbel said of his project: “He started with a goal and I failed. This goal never happened. Recognizing the people and this tree, that was the whole point. “
But Lane feels that Babbel and the county got the best of it and Lane is happy with the way the project went. He was encouraged by Tuesday’s ceremony, seeing the flag spread in the wind and hearing the honking of people in passing cars.
“I think (the ceremony) went really well and it’s a nice place,” Lane said.
The county has also asked several people to offer to pay the annual rental fee of $ 260 that the county must pay the BLM for the right-of-way permit. A contributor has agreed to pay the first 10 years of the membership fee.
LeValley said: “I am happy that Mr Babbel was able to hoist his flag in a very visible place, which means a lot to a significant number of people who use this route and who took care of this Christmas tree and the flag. . in the past.”