An unofficial but much-loved memorial on Preston-Fall City Road was removed two weeks ago, creating a stir in the Preston community, and causing the King County Department of Transportation to formally apologize to community members, who did their best to quickly restore the flags and banners on the site.
A Facebook page, Put the American Flag Back up in Preston, was launched July 25 to call on the county to restore the memorial, reportedly put up on a rock wall immediately after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
The memorial, featuring a couple of American flags, a POW/MIA flag, and banners, had been removed by a Department of Transportation staffer, who’d received a complaint about the display.
According to Brent Champaco, with the King County Department of Transportation, the memorial was unauthorized, but “it flew under the radar for a while…. It definitely wasn’t a county memorial, it was something that the community was doing on its own.”
Recently, though, the department received a complaint about what the caller considered an “offensive” display on public property.
“We received a complaint about it,” Champaco said, although he wasn’t clear on the specifics of the complaint. He said a county staffer investigated and “because it’s located in the county right of way, we acted accordingly.”
In response to the removal, the community expressed outrage and immediately began hanging flags on the wall again.
They also contacted their county representative, King County Councilwoman Kathy Lambert, who arranged a meeting between the county department and community members.
“This wall is a revered spot for people in and around Preston,” Lambert said.
As a result of the meeting, the residents got an apology, and their memorial back, for the time being.
“On behalf of the department, I offer my sincere apologies to the residents of Preston and the surrounding community,” said the county’s transportation director, Harold Taniguchi. “We should have reached out to the community before removing the flags, banners, and messages. We will work with Preston to find a solution that respects both our legal obligations and the values and desires of this community.
“For the time being,” he added, “the wall will remain as it is now.”
Residents were happy with the outcome.
“I very much respect the county’s difficult position here, and am overjoyed that they are working together with us now and came out today,” said Ron Goins, a local resident who attended the meeting.
Kristi McClelland, who lives in Preston, said, “I felt from the meeting that there is a lot of concern and care for our town and I’m really happy that we are being heard. We’re only a small town, but this wall means a lot to us here. I appreciate the county taking a risk and the time today hearing us out.”
Lambert was also pleased, saying “I’m glad we can now work together to find a solution that will respect the values of the community, pay proper respect to the flag, and maintains our obligation to public safety.”
The specifics of the planned compromise have not been determined yet, but says Elizabeth Hill, King County Senior Deputy Ombudsman for Rural Affairs, “We will continue to keep dialogue open to inform the community as future forums or meetings on this issue are planned and to pass along any suggestions we may have.”
Now, said Champaco, the work begins to “find a solution that respects the values and desires of the community, as well as our legal obligations.”