Art or edifice? Vermont town says giant wooden dinosaur sculpture needs $272 permit

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Vt. scrap-wood dinosaur posing modern-day problem

POST MILLS, Vt. — Does a 25-foot-tall, 122-foot-long dinosaur need a permit to avoid extinction?

That’s the unlikely dilemma posed by “Vermontasaurus,” a whimsical sculpture thrown together with scrap wood by a Vermont man. The oddity now faces opposition from neighbors and regulatory challenges from government entities that he fears could force him to dismantle it.

It’s art, not edifice, says Brian Boland.

“They should leave me alone. It’s a piece of artwork,” he said.

Boland, 61, is a former teacher, hot-air balloon designer and pilot who runs the Post Mills Airport, a 52-acre airfield.

Last month, he decided to turn a pile of broken wooden planks and other detritus on the edge of his property into something more. Boland says the idea was to build a sculpture that could be a community gathering place, with no admission and no commercial element.

Using a dinosaur model as his inspiration, he put out a call for volunteer helpers and went to work.

He cut a huge pine tree into four pieces and, using a back hoe, planted them as the bases of the four feet. Then, over nine days and using dozens of volunteers, the ersatz sculpture began taking shape.

A splintered two-by-four here, the rotted belly of a guitar there, half a ladder from a child’s bunk bed here, Boland and his volunteers worked under basic ground rules: No saws, no rulers and no materials other than what was in the scrap pile.

Also, anything nailed into place couldn’t be removed. And nothing was to be level or plumb.

What emerged from the random carpentry was a Smithsonian-sized slice of roadside Americana.

“It’s an interesting piece of art, but personally, I don’t find it all that appealing,” said neighbor Mary Wilson, 54, who lives down the street and wishes it could be removed. On the poster Boland circulated to seek volunteers, “it looked pretty neat. But when you look at it now, it looks like a messy piece of art.”

Dirk Koppers, 40, who lives next door to Wilson, said he loves it.

“It shows such creativity,” he said. “You just don’t go to places and be surprised anymore. Everything’s always so controlled or so governed.”

Speaking of which, government officials are not amused.

The Town of Thetford told Boland his sculpture was really a structure — akin to a shed or a gazebo — and that he needed a $272 permit for it.

The state Division of Fire Safety, meanwhile, told Boland that if he couldn’t get a structural engineer to attest to the sculpture’s safety, he could not allow people to congregate underneath it. Boland has since wound a strap around the legs to keep people from walking under the belly of the beast.

“There’s enough weight there that if it collapsed, somebody would probably be hurt,” said Michael Desrochers, regional manager for the Division of Fire Safety.

The Vermont Natural Resources Board weighed in with a notice of alleged violation that said the wooden dinosaur was a substantial change to an existing development and may therefore need another permit, at a minimum of $150, under an ultra-restrictive state land-use law called Act 250.

The state will decide this week if such a permit is required, according to Boolie Sluka, District 2 assistant coordinator for the Board.

Boland says he’s been told he might have to dismantle it entirely.

In the interim, he has won cheers from passers-by, some of whom drive up to take pictures. It was an onlooker from Boston who dubbed it “Vermontasaurus,” which Boland has adopted as the structure’s name.

On Thursday, Peg Perkins, 77, of Gaysville, and cousin Diana LeClair, 59, of Hardwick, pulled up next to it, cameras in hand.

“It’s very, very ingenious,” said LeClair.

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