The landmark cedar flagpole on Signal Rock in Woodmont has deteriorated and has to be replaced, but borough officials did not vote earlier this week to replace it with a fiberglass pole as Borough Warden Edward Bonessi Jr. had hoped.
Rather, the borough will get a firm price on replacing the pole with a fiberglass pole, as well as a cedar pole, in keeping with the tradition of the pole currently there.
Senior Burgess John Barrett said he expects the pole will be removed and replaced sometime this summer, after the board has enough information to make a decision.
Bonessi seems adamant that the new pole should be made of fiberglass.
“I will be happy to entertain any and all ideas,” Bonessi said. “My concern with the cedar pole is that it will require a human being to shimmy up it and down it to scrape it and paint it every two to three years.”
Steeplejacks who do that work “are a dying breed,” Bonessi said.
He understands the desire to maintain tradition but as the person who has been in charge of maintenance and lowering the flag to half mast for more than 20 years, Bonessi said there is a practical side to the debate.
“It’s literally out there in the middle of the ocean, Long Island Sound, and there’s only a window of opportunity when you can get out there on dry ground of two hours every day, and one of those is in the middle of the night,” Bonessi said. “So there’s really only one time during daylight hours that you can get out there.”
Bonessi already started a Gofundme campaign to help pay for replacing the pole, and it had raised almost $4,400 as of Tuesday morning.
The Signal Rock flagpole dates back to about 1881, when it was an eight-foot pole used to mark the oyster bed boundary in the vicinity. Around 1895, the Woodmont community erected the approximately 40-foot flagpole, which may have originally been part of a mast atop a sailing ship.
In recent years the pole has shown signs of rot, and it has a crack in it.
Bonessi and Barrett agreed there is no concern the flagpole will fall. There is no flag on it now, so there isn’t much stress on it. But signs will be posted to warn people away from the pole to be on the safe side.
Paul Bastiaanse, a steeplejack with Valley Restoration in Torrington, last year estimated it would cost about $10,000 to replace the pole with a hinged fiberglass pole that would look much like the one there now.
A hinged pole could be removed for maintenance, rather than climbed, and would last about 40 to 50 years.
During a borough meeting Monday, a couple of residents suggested the idea of getting a price on a cedar pole, because of tradition. Barrett said he will reach out to Mystic Seaport and see if he can get a price there.
But he agreed in part with Bonessi.
“How many steeplejacks will there be in 10 or 20 years?” Barrett said.
There hasn’t been any talk about ditching the flag and pole altogether, Bonessi said, adding that he doesn’t think anyone would want to lose the landmark.
People who have donated to the Gofundme campaign agree with that sentiment.
James Whitaker said on the site, “The history of Signal Rock and the flagpole can’t be lost.”
Charlie and Norm Rodrigues, said, “We donated because the flag represents everyone who served and died for our country. We need to see it flying high every day when we walk by there.”
A spokesman for the Manu’iwa Outrigger Milford Paddling Club said, “We love paddling by this local landmark and would be lost without it!”