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St. Helens sticking with troubled art project

Aluminum banners have come loose twice in two years


The St. Helens City Council voted unanimously Wednesday, Aug. 21, to move forward with its effort to beautify the downtown corridor with painted aluminum banners by having the problematic design reengineered to address safety concerns.

Arts and Cultural Commission Chairwoman Kannikar Petersen urged councilors to support the project, which the city council first approved in 2008. She described the banners as part of a broader effort to improve St. Helens through projects like painting trashcans and decorating bike racks.

The banners have proven especially troublesome for St. Helens over the years.

It was not until mid-2011, about three years after the project was given the green light by the city council, that the aluminum poles and painted banners were installed along Old Portland Road. Months later, a windstorm in February 2012 caused a banner to fall, prompting city staff to remove the banners.

The mechanism to secure each banner to its pole was redesigned so that the banner would turn in the wind like weathervanes. Despite the change, the art features were up for just one month this summer before one was found to have come loose, and city staff again took them down on July 15.

“In our art commission meeting, I have proposed a solution to fix this,” Petersen said. She listed several design changes she said could keep the banners from coming loose, such as using steel poles instead of the existing aluminum poles.

Some people are “trying to kill the project,” Petersen claimed, saying she heard at least one person describe the aluminum banner as “the flying guillotine.”

“I don't know if there's the will to fix it,” she said.

Council President Doug Morten admitted that the “flying guillotine” description may have come from him.

“It wasn't anything detrimental, and it wasn't meant to kill the project,” Morten said. “I am afraid of these.”

Morten suggested that strong winds could rip the metal banners from their brackets and hurl them through the air.

“If those things go flying through the street and hit some children, hit anyone, then yes, it is a safety concern,” said Morten, adding, “I wouldn't be doing my job if I said, 'O.K., put it up.'”

Petersen reacted strongly to the comments, telling Morten that he “missed the point.”

“This is not a unique structure that is one of a kind and never built anywhere else,” said Petersen, adding, “I'm not asking you to engineer it. I proposed it on there that it should be engineered properly.”

Mayor Randy Peterson sided with Petersen.

“I'm certainly in favor of moving forward with it in the manner proposed,” said Peterson, shortly before Councilor Susan Conn made a motion to accept the Arts and Cultural Commission's recommendation that the project continue and the banner poles be reengineered. That motion passed with all in favor, including Morten.

Editor's note: A previous version of this story stated winds caused banner poles to fall in February 2012. While the winds caused a metal banner to fall and prompted city staff to remove the rest for safety reasons, the poles remained standing. The Spotlight regrets the error.