9/11 banner over Coon Rapids highway hits snag

  • Article by: PAUL LEVY , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 8, 2011 - 8:26 PM

A patriotic gesture planned for Sunday has created a dispute between a Coon Rapids group and state transportation officials.

A banner helping to commemorate 9/11 will be raised Sunday in Coon Rapids, but not as organizers had hoped.

Dan Hanson, who organized the annual commemorations the previous three years, wanted to hang a 20-foot-long banner over a highway bridge as he'd done before. But the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) said no, citing safety concerns and a law that forbids affixing anything to highway structures.

Instead, MnDOT officials want the banner to be fastened to handheld poles. But Hanson and Anoka County Commissioners Carol LeDoux and Robyn West say that would be even more dangerous.

"How can policy people make an idiotic decision over a patriotic gesture and turn it into a turf war?" LeDoux asked.

"If there's a concern about distracting drivers, to me it would be more distracting to have people walking around above a bridge holding the banner," said West. "And suppose the banner is swept away?"

That's MnDOT's primary concern -- that an unattended banner hanging from the County Road 14 bridge over Hwy. 10 could detach and fly across or onto the highway.

"They did this a number of years without asking permission," said Jeff Dierberger, one of MnDOT's permit contacts. "It's illegal. There's a statute that prohibits this."

So the banner will be hoisted with handheld poles.

Sunday's ceremonies will take place at 2 p.m. at the Coon Rapids High School football field. Because the event will mark the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks, Hanson and his fellow organizers wanted to make it bigger than previous efforts.

That includes the banner, which has an American flag motif and shows the burning World Trade Center and firefighters holding a flag planted in the rubble. The words "We Will Never Forget" stretch across the banner, as well as "In Loving Memory of B.J. Beardsley," whose parents donated the banner in honor of their son, who was killed in Iraq, Hanson said.

"We put those banners over a bridge in 2008, 2009 and 2010 and nothing was said," Hanson said.

"King Kong couldn't rip these things off the bridge. Holding them is more dangerous. If it's windy, it's like trying to harness a giant sail."

Paul Levy • 612-673-4419

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