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Petaluma feed mill takes down flag targeted by vandals

The Stars and Stripes will fly again on 9/11 at Dairymen's Feed & Supply Co. in Petaluma, commemorating the 2001 terror attacks that first inspired installation of a flagpole atop the iconic building.

But the new American flag strung up Wednesday was temporarily brought down Thursday morning. Its apparent allure to vandals poses too high a risk of injury and liability to the co-op, President Arnie Riebli said.

"I believe it's in Dairymen's best interest to keep it down," he said. "That certainly isn't our wish, but I'm sure that most people -- most business people in our shoes -- would probably take the same path at this point in time. I just can't afford to run the risk."

The 10-by-15-foot flag and subsequent replacements have been stolen from the 108-foot-high rooftop three times over the past year, including last weekend, Dairymen's said.

Each time, someone has broken into the 1937 building, climbed an interior stairwell and cut the flag loose by slashing the metal eyelets that attach it to the pole.

Some speculate young people are to blame. The vintage building and 11-story grain elevator, off East Washington and Lakeville streets, seem to attract partiers by night, Dairymen's personnel said.

There have been five break-ins at the mill this year alone, office manager Clarette McDonald said.

The thefts and desecration of the flag are offensive to Riebli and others at the company.

But knowing that people are getting up on the rooftop by dark, perhaps after drinking or taking drugs, raises the threat of someone falling as well.

"You fall 100 feet, you're probably going to die," Riebli said.

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