By Douglas Feiden New York Daily News
An Inwood man who has planted a field of U.S. flags in Battery Park for the past six years to commemorate 9/11 will again unfurl the Stars and Stripes on September 11 — now that the Parks Department has reversed itself and given him the green light.
Mike Hughes was initially told that he could not display his 300 “Flags of Heroes” — inscribed with the names of all 2,977 terror victims — but when the Daily News asked about the denial, officials changed their minds.
“The family members will all be relieved and overwhelmed and thankful and emotional,” Hughes said. “We can again keep alive the memories of all the friends and loved ones we lost.”
The 56-year-old patriot said Parks Department bureaucrats first told him he’d be unable to mark the anniversary because a major construction project would be underway in Battery Park — even as Labor Day slipped by with no sign of any hardhats.
So Hughes started to tell disappointed cops, firefighters, family members and military personnel that the city had put the kibosh on a project that since 2006 had helped grieving New Yorkers cope with unbearable and shattering losses.
“It was painfully sad because dozens of family members were calling and saying, ‘Mike, what day are you going to set up the flags?’ And I had to tell them, ‘Sorry, the city isn’t letting me do it this year,’ ” Hughes said.
But parks officials swiftly reconsidered after News inquiries: A massive 3-acre reconstruction that will create and beautify an oval lawn for passive recreation is indeed almost ready to begin — but it hasn’t started yet, they said.
That created a window: On Sunday, it was determined that Hughes could be accommodated after all.
“He’ll get his permit,” said Parks Department spokeswoman Tara Kiernan. “We will not be issuing permits once construction starts later in September, but since we haven’t started there yet, we are able to squeeze in this one last event.”
Hughes, a volunteer with a civilian emergency response team at the World Trade Center on 9/11, was overjoyed when he heard the news. But he was also in Shanksville, Pa., at a memorial event for the victims of United Airlines flight 93.
So he got in his car and headed back to the city, vowing to apply for his $25 permit first thing Monday morning.
“It’s a story with a happy ending,” Hughes said.