A New York community that displayed American flags on utility poles to honor a fallen hero is outraged after the Long Island Power Authority sent them a bill – for using their poles.
“I was pretty shocked,” said Peter Reich, a councilman in the Long Island community of Shelter Island. “It’s the most ludicrous thing.”
The flags were hung last year for the funeral of Army 1st Lt. Joseph Theinert. The Shelter Island native was killed while on active duty in Afghanistan. He sacrificed his life to save his platoon and was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart for his actions.
Last week, Theinert’s platoon gathered in Shelter Island for a reunion. To welcome the troops, the American Legion, along with the owner of the local hardware store, decided to once again line the parade route with American flags.
Local residents donated the $8,000 needed to purchase the flags, and the town’s superintendent of highways posted them on the utility poles. But someone from the power company reportedly saw a story about the flags in a local newspaper and informed town officials of the $5-per-flag fee.
“This is done by the Legionnaires who have served the country for the right for us to display Old Glory and here the state wants to make a profit on it,” Reich told Fox News Radio. “At some point common sense has to prevail with these people.”
Mike Loriz, the commander of American Legion Post 281, said he, too, was disturbed by the fee. “It seems like it’s kind of crazy that state law requires that we pay $5 to stick an American flag on a public utility phone pole for patriotic purposes,” Loriz said.
A spokesperson for the Long Island Power Authority did not respond to repeated requests for a comment and instead demanded to know, “Why is this a story?”
Michael Hervey, LIPA’s chief operating officer, told Newsday that his company was just following state law. “I don’t think anyone expected this to apply to flags on poles, but if you read the language there’s no way around it,” he told the newspaper. “We welcome any amendment to state legislation that would allow for American flag attachments to our poles without fees.”
Hervey even volunteered to personally pay the fees, but Reich said that’s not the point.
“It’s not the fee,” he said. “It’s the principle of the thing. Getting that money out of us is going to be like getting blood out of a stone.”
Flags were also posted on poles owned by Verizon. However, a spokesman for the company said it typically waives fees for commemorative ceremonies and “we intend on waiving it in this case.”