A nearly 10-meter-high Santa’s mailbox standing at Tynset since December of 2013, but which the city ordered removed a year ago due to lack of a proper permit, has its lights removed Monday and is scheduled to be taken down starting Nov. 20, according to its owner and a city attorney.
“This is crazy,” said Po Lin Lee, a Hong Kong native who spent about 500,000 kroner to build the mailbox, during a tearful interview at her holiday-themed shop next to the mailbox. “Tourists love it. I’m doing a free commercial and telling good things about Svalbard.”
Lee has also been fined 500 kroner a day since last Nov. 1 for failing to remove the mailbox (more than 180,00 kroner as of Monday) and is being charged an additional 129,000 kroner for LNS Spitsbergen to remove the mailbox.
“I don’t like the term ‘penalty,'” said Lee, noting she’d be willing to donate the amount of the fine to charity if the city allowed it. “Penalty is for bad people doing bad things.”
Lee originally obtained a two-year permit for the mailbox, which was unveiled during a holiday ceremony and became a popular photo attraction for visitors. But she failed to submit a complete renewal application, including getting input from neighboring property owners, and after numerous extensions for her to complete the application was told by the city the structure needed to be removed.
The mailbox has remained standing since the original November deadline, but the city – after getting authorization from The Governor of Svalbard – notified Lee she needed to remove it during the summer or the city would do so at her expense.
Lee was notified through her attorney about the planned removal last week. The lights were removed as scheduled Monday because that’s when an LNS electrician was available, said Sofie Grøntvedt Railo, a property attorney for the city.
“The will start on the 20th (of November) to remove the mailbox,” Railo said, adding the work will likely take about a week.
The 129,000-kroner bill for the removal is the bid submitted by LNS to cover the labor and disposal of the materials, Railo said.
She said the fine is being imposed under Norwegian law and, as such, the city isn’t willing to consider a donation to charity instead.
“This is just a fine because she was not trying to do what the city says,” Railo said.
The anticipated removal of the mailbox has been controversial since the city first made the demand, with a far higher percentage of tourists voicing positive opinions about the structure than locals. Residents reacting on a community Facebook page this week to news of the impending removal were largely divided in their reactions.
“This I can’t understand – the town has so much urgent stuff to be focused on (roads for example), but instead of that they are just taking down poor box that, among other things, was a pretty good tourist attraction,” wrote Vladimir Prokofiev.
But others agreed with the sentiments of a majority of the Longyearbyen Community Council which, while voting to remove to mailbox because of the lack of a permit, also stated that just because it’s unique doesn’t mean it’s a positive attraction.
Perhaps because we don’t want the city to turn into a kind of Disneyland,” wrote Sophie Cordon. “If tourists are coming to Svalbard to see this box I’d prefer them to stay home, to be honest.”
Lee, who feared after seeing the lights gone that the mailbox would be removed within hours afterward, said she is planning a “farewell” gathering for the mailbox on Nov. 18.
“I am in shock,” she said. “The city is taking away my home, my friend.”