Sunday, August 24, 2003

Town threatens fine over 9-11 memorial

The Associated Press

COLFAX, Ind. - George Benefiel suggests his makeshift memorial to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks is a type of landscaping or even public art.

But town officials see only a pile of bricks and debris and have threatened to levy $1,000-a-day fines against Benefiel.

The Town Council in this community about 40 miles northwest of Indianapolis last week issued its latest citation against Benefiel - this time with a warning of a $1,000 fine for every day after Aug. 15 he fails to remove his memorial.

That date was the deadline by which the mound was to have been cleaned up under an agreement one of Benefiel's attorneys negotiated with town officials.

The mound of debris behind Benefiel's pole barn on Main Street includes a flag and a sign, reading, "Remember 9-11-01. God bless America."

In a June 18 letter, town officials demanded that Benefiel clean up the debris, which they considered to be a nuisance.

But instead of removing the mound, he has been building it up.

When Benefiel received the letter from town officials in June, several thousand bricks were for sale and stashed in back of his property. He later sold most of the bricks, then scooped up the remainder for the monument and hoisted a flag.

Benefiel has called the mound his attempt at landscaping. His attorney, Richard D. Martin, referred to it as art and said his client had cleaned up the site.

"I think the town is completely wrong about this," Martin said. "Art is in the eye of the beholder."

City officials beg to differ. "We think the flag and sign are great," Town Attorney Cy Gerde said. "But that doesn't change the issue of the bricks."

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