South Portland knotted up with illegal yellow ribbons


SOUTH PORTLAND (AP) – A city resolution allowing yellow ribbons to hang on utility poles expired nearly three months ago.

But the ribbons are still hanging, and the city is getting complaints from people who say they amount to political statements in support of the war in Iraq.

A city resolution allowed the ribbons after two South Portland men – Jason Swiger and Angel Rosa – were killed in Iraq this spring. But the resolution stated the ribbons could hang for only a month, from March 27 to April 26, after which a city ordinance that bans ribbons, posters and other items from public property was to go back into effect.

Now, city officials are at a standstill as they try to figure out how to balance the wishes of those who want the ribbons up and those who want them down.

Acting City Manager Jim Gailey said one possible solution would be to create a monument for past and present service members where people could leave as many ribbons, wreaths and flags as they want without offending other residents.

“It allows those who want to do something for the troops to go to a central location, versus hanging yellow ribbons all over the community and making a statement in areas where maybe people don’t think yellow ribbons should be,” Gailey said.

Gailey has floated the idea to city councilors, but his proposal is still in the early stages and has yet to be discussed at a meeting.

Yellow ribbons first appeared around South Portland in 2003 when Jason Swiger’s mother, Valorie Swiger, put them up while her son was serving the first of three tours in Iraq. But they came back down after the City Council heard heated debate over what the ribbons represented – support for the troops or support for President Bush and the war.

This time, about 2,000 ribbons still blanket the city, Gailey said. He acknowledges that they are a “violation of the ordinance at this point,” but said the city has made no move to remove them from the city’s signposts or utility poles owned by Central Maine Power Co. and telephone companies.

Critics of the war aren’t the only ones who would like to see them removed.

CMP spokesman John Carroll said the ribbons pose a safety hazard for linemen who could snag their climbing hooks on the ribbons. They also encourage other people to post fliers with tacks and staples that could puncture workers’ rubber gloves, putting them at risk of electrocution, Carroll said.

“We wish they would respect our rights,” he said. “It’s private property.”

Information from: Portland Press Herald,