PARK COUNTY — A man camping on his own land high in the Rocky Mountains with a large collection of trash or treasure (depending on the telling of the story) rejected an offer from county officials to clean his parcel free-of-charge.
Steve Bedigian portrays his dispute with Park County as a one-man version of the conflict on the Gaza strip.
“Would a Palestinian embrace the Israeli government with gratitude,” Bedigian said. “For offering to tear their home down for free?”
Bedigian, known locally as the “Flag Man” of Park County, risks losing his land by rejecting the offer.
He lost a civil jury trial in March, in which he represented himself -- defending his scattered collection of tattered American flags, self-made wooden structures, water heaters, furniture and other items as an art installation he calls “Sergeant Mike’s.” He said it's a tribute to his late father and other service members.
The jury ruled that collection of stuff violated the rubbish ordinance. The court ordered Bedigian to remove it or face steep fines.
Instead Bedigian began construction on a fence, using some of the materials deemed in violation of the county’s laws. But the county says what he’s building is no more compliant than the collection he already had on site.
In an effort to avoid the potential of foreclosing on Bedigian’s six-acre plot, the county commissioners instructed their lawyer to make the offer to clean it up for free.
“I am very disappointed that the offer wasn’t accepted,” Park County Attorney Lee Phillips said. “It is unprecedented.”
Phillips says he’s overseen code enforcement cases for Park County for 11 years and has never seen the county offer to clean up a person’s parcel for them for free. He also made it clear in an interview with 9NEWS that the county isn’t going to let this go.
“We can’t,” Phillips said. “The county is getting calls pretty much daily from people who live out in that part of the county, saying ‘Why isn’t the county doing something about this situation?’ It’s just impossible for the county to tell other people, ‘Look, you’ve got to keep your property clean and compliant with applicable codes, but we’re going to do nothing about this highly visible situation.’”
The site, located adjacent to a highway in a vast high-altitude valley, generates a regular stream of complaints, many of which express anger at perceived disrespect to the American flag.
Bedigian displays dozens of flags in various states of disrepair, including one strapped to a mock-up of a coffin meant to represent Bedigian’s late father. He sees the tattered flags as a symbol of the wear and tear that military service puts on veterans like his dad.
Bedigian made a request for more time to comply with the ordinance, which was rejected Thursday by the district court that ruled against him.
That means he faces a current fine of $12,500, which grows by an added $100 each day.
Phillips said the county’s offer to clean the property for free is still open to Bedigian, but he couldn’t say for how much longer.
At some point, the county will clean the property without his permission and put a lien on the property—likely forcing it into foreclosure to cover the costs.
“He had his day in court,” Phillips said. “He had a jury trial.”
Bedigian told 9NEWS he’d rather lose his land than comply and tear down what he still considers to be an art installation.
“What good is it if I possess my land and have compromised my principles? That’s not something I’ll entertain,” Bedigian said. “Come and take my land. I’m not going to tear it down for you. I’m not going to disrespect it.”
In the first story 9NEWS reported on the case, Bedigian said the authorities could take his “corpse” from the site.
Asked if anyone coming to enforce the court’s ruling would be in danger, Bedigian told 9NEWS: “you’ll get no violent behavior from me.”