The brass elk that a group of volunteers wants to put in the roundabout at The Home Depot is dead, at least for now, brought down by the Arizona Department of Transportation which sees it as a distraction.
Jeanie Langham, the citizen who is leading the effort to raise $65,000 in private donations for the project -- to turn the center of the roundabout into a northern gateway to Payson -- said she was told by ADOT that the problem with the elk is that it's a work of art. ADOT has no objection to the other elements of the project -- a rock outcropping with native landscaping and the Payson town logo.
"The rocks are OK," Langham said. "It's artwork they have a problem with. Even though Washington, D.C. and other states have roundabouts with huge artwork, and the Arc de Triomphe (in Paris) is in a roundabout, in Payson we can't handle an elk."
Langham said ADOT first told her the elk would be a distraction for motorists traversing the roundabout, then changed its story.
"First they were afraid that people would crash looking at it," she said. "Then the next thing was they thought pedestrians would want to have their picture taken with it and get killed."
Also at issue is whether ADOT ever approved the elk in the first place. Town Public Works Engineer LaRon Garrett said this week that it hadn't.
"What happened is that the council approved Langham's concept, then that was sent to ADOT for their approval, and they came back and said we don't want anything in the center of the roundabout that will attract pedestrians," Garrett said.
Yet a tape of the March 10 town council meeting, at which the council voted 7-0 to approve the concept, revealed that Garrett told the council ADOT had already given its approval.
"We have sent this to ADOT to get their initial comments just as a concept," Garrett said to the council. "Even though what you see in the (background information) packet is that they don't want statues out there, we have had a final determination sent to us saying that something like this would be acceptable if you decide to approve this concept."
The council did so with enthusiasm.
"I really like it," councilor Dick Reese said. "I wish the south entrance (to Payson) were more attractive and exciting."
"It's a beautiful concept," councilor George Barriger added, "and if we can pull it off it's a magnificent addition to our town."
The fund-raising was going very well when Langham got the word that the elk was dead. She said it was Leroy Brady of ADOT's roadside development division that nixed the project, but Brady denies it.
"I talked to her at different times, but the approval doesn't come from me," he said. "The approval would have to come from the (Prescott) district, so their submittals went through the district permits people."
But Brady said he did advise Langham to proceed with caution.
"I told her that it would be problematic from the very beginning, because generally that kind of stuff doesn't go in," he said.
As an alternative, ADOT has suggested the elk be placed on the side of the road rather than in the center of the roundabout, but Langham says no way.
"They said the problem would be solved by putting the elk over on the side, and I just told them if that's their solution, there won't be an elk."
Calls to Cliff Passmore who handles permits were not returned, but Dallas Hammit, an engineer who has only been the supervisor of the Prescott District for a few days, promised to research and revisit the issue.
"I'm on my way to a meeting in Phoenix on the subject right now," Hammit said.
In the meantime, Alvin Stump, an ADOT project engineer with roundabout experience, has seen firsthand what artwork can do.
"I personally think it's a good idea," he said. "They have four or five roundabouts with art in them in Avon (Colo.), and I've seen those and it really enhances the community."
Langham doesn't understand how it got to this point in the first place, and after putting up to eight hours a day into the project she's discouraged.
"To me its been very foolish and shortsighted," she said. "If they want us to have roundabouts, they need to look like something.
"I just thought it would be a nice idea, but (they make it hard) for citizens to have any say in our community."