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The red, white and blue’s absence could be short-lived

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The lack of a U.S. flag on an Ogdensburg landmark that also happens to be the oldest federal building still in active use has caused quite a stir.

And it should. Under construction or not, an active federal building should be flying its nation’s flag at all times.

It’s not surprising that Ogdensburg residents noticed it was missing. Our local widespread custom among businesses, residents and boaters is to fly a U.S. flag, sometimes right alongside the Canadian flag.

The response to a story we ran Friday about the lack of a flag at the Robert C. McEwen Customs House has been overwhelming. Local and federal officials starting working vigorously to make sure that the colors retake their rightful place over the building.

Congressman William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, has pledged to make a flag available if the General Services Administration, which oversees the building, needs one. Ogdensburg Mayor William D. Nelson has promised that if no one else will do it, a city employee will go each day to hang the flag and take it down if there isn’t a means keep it lit at night. City Councilman Daniel E. Skamperle is looking into getting at least a temporary light, and has stressed to the GSA that even if they need to leave it down while construction at the building is ongoing, it’s important to at least have a flag flying there for our summer events.

The Customs House, the oldest building in Ogdensburg and one of the most recognizable city landmarks, is undergoing an interior renovation. It’s temporarily vacant, so the GSA hasn’t been flying a flag there.

That sounds like a reasonable explanation for the lack of a flag, but it’s still not one anyone seems willing to accept. The general consensus I hear is that there is absolutely no excuse for an active federal building to not be flying our country’s flag, especially within sight of an international border.

I don’t think GSA officials realized how big of a deal the lack of a flag would be. I think they are genuinely surprised at how upset people are about it and at how many calls they have gotten from residents and politicians asking where our flag is.

They could have saved themselves some trouble by realizing how important the building is to the community and by letting us know in advance what they were up to.

Mr. Skamperle told me Friday evening that a GSA official he spoke with was pleasantly taken aback by the level of concern the flag’s absence has prompted. He said the GSA official found Ogdensburg’s patriotism refreshing and positive at a time when there is so much negativity associated with a government that is widely viewed as ineffective and intrusive.

When he called the GSA Friday night, it was to tell them that he had found no light on site to illuminate the flag pole. The official he got on the phone told him they had also sent somebody to the building to see whether there was already a means to keep the flag lit.

I am glad so many people are working to remedy the situation. I am confident that one way or another, the red, white and blue will soon retake its rightful place over the building. It almost restores your faith in government a little bit.

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