Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Small-town Vermont feud leads to tall middle-finger statue

Boston Globe photo by Michael Swensen
In Westford, Vermont (pop. 2,000), local mechanic Ted Pelkey's frustration with the state and local government led to him commissioning, and publicly displaying on a tall pole, a huge hand with a raised middle finger.

"For the past decade, Pelkey said, he has been attempting to move his business, Ted’s Truck and Trailer Repair, from the town of Swanton, 20-some miles away, to the 11.4 acres on which his home sits in Westford," Dugan Arnett reports for The Boston Globe. "The move would not only eliminate his daily 30-minute commute, he said, but save him thousands of dollars a year in rent. It would also require the construction of an 8,000-square-foot building on his property."

Town officials originally approved the move, but withheld the permit necessary to begin construction after a few neighbors complained to the state environmental court, Pelkey said. He estimated for the Globe that he has spent $100,000 in legal fees over the past 10 years in an expensive battle with Westford officials and the state's environmental court.

A few months ago, Pelkey, 54, said he got the idea for the middle finger sculpture as a way to get back at the town. He paid a local sculptor $3,000 to create the middle finger salute from a 7-foot-tall chunk of pine and hoisted it onto a 16-foot pole in his front yard, Arnett reports. Locals immediately noticed; some were horrified, but most thought it was funny.

Pam Sargent, who works at a local deli, told Arnett the town should "capitalize on it" and proposed selling t-shirts featuring the sculpture that say "Westford's Number 1."

Town officials were less amused, and told Arnett in emails that Pelkey "has a history of directing animosity toward town employees and town volunteer boards" and said the case is “definitely not a tale of David v Goliath."

Pelkey figured he'd be ordered to take it down in a few days, but it turns out that, because the piece is considered public art, the town can't make him. Arnett sums it up: "The bird, in other words, is free to soar. And it has."

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