Our Opinion: UFO monument belongs on site

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The dispute over the 5,000-pound UFO monument in Sheffield centers on whether the monument, which town officials removed last week, was or was not on town land. The larger and still unanswered question is — why couldn't it stay where it was regardless of whose land it was on?

In an editorial that ran one year ago today headlined "UFO monument is an attention grabber," The Eagle urged town officials to keep the monument where it is in part because it draws attention to the community. Indeed, the monument and the story behind it became the subject of a History Channel documentary, not the first done on the subject. The monument, which was placed in 2015, draws visitors to the attractive site who also get to walk over the quaint Upper Sheffield Covered bridge.

The monument commemorates the reported encounter with an unidentified flying object by the family of Thomas Reed on Sept. 1, 1969. Mr. Reed, who was nine-years-old at the time, asserts along with other family members that they made contact with extraterrestrials while crossing the bridge. Around 40 people came forward to corroborate the sighting of strange lights in the sky on the evening of the Reed family's close encounter.

Whatever controversy was generated by the siting 50 years ago doesn't compare in magnitude to the four-year war between the town of Sheffield and Mr. Reed, who was instrumental in the placing of the monument. The town, claiming that the monument sites on a town-owned right of way easement, has demanded its removal since a land survey in May of 2018. Select Board member Nadine Hawver told The Eagle (June 8) that a full land survey definitively marks the property line between the town and private property owned by farmer Louis Aragi and the monument was on town land.

Mr. Reed continues to assert that the the monument was on land owned by Mr. Aragi and he is in possession of a letter from the town attorney saying the monument can stay put under the terms of an agreement reached between the town and Mr. Reed. A 2015 email from the town counsel, says Mr. Reed, states that "the town is satisfied with the current location and stands by the agreement reached with you."

The monument and a plaque commemorating the incident are being stored in an unknown location. The plaque from the office of Governor Charlie Baker states that the citation is "in recognition of the off'world incident on Sept. 1, 1969, which engaged the Reed Family." (The governor's office has since said the citation should not have been sent out. An "X-Files"-style government cover-up?)

Mr. Reed threatens to sue the town and it's unfortunate that it had to come to this. For the sake of argument, if the monument was on town land that does not mean a precedent has been set that the town cannot reject other other attempts to put objects on town property, as town leaders assert. Each application is separate and can be judged on its merits — and there is the matter of town counsel's communications with Mr. Reed.

The tasteful monument drew a handful of visitors now and again who did not pose a threat to the bridge or the site. You can believe in the UFO encounter or not, but even those who don't believe in Champ, the Lake Champlain monster, will acknowledge that the tale adds to the quirky charm of Vermont. We urge Sheffield to return the monument and plaque to the site and reach an understanding with Mr. Reed that will allow it to stay there unchallenged as long as it and the property are well-maintained.

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