by David Long | July 12, 2015 5:19 pm
Dino, the endearing baby dinosaur that has long been the Jurassic-era promoter of Sinclair gasoline, may soon disappear from one of Montezuma County’s most notorious landmarks.
Visiting District Judge David Lass ruled May 15 that the Sinclair sign is the personal property of the parent company, rejecting arguments by the property owners, Ray and Sandra McCarty, that it belongs to them.
Perched atop the towering canopy of a defunct convenience store on U.S. Highway 160 near Mesa Verde National Park, the diminutive green sauropod on the “Sinclair” sign presently overlooks another, bright orange billboard adorned with skull-and crossbones flags that declares the area a “Massive petroleum spill/toxic site.”
Yet another billboard states, “This toxic mess is brought to you by the state of Colorado.” Other grim messages are scattered around the property as well.
McCarty, who posted the dire warnings in recent years to call attention to the dilapidated structure, has been engaged in a lengthy legal battle over what he maintains is widespread property damage that occurred after the store closed in 2004.
He claims that “thousands of gallons” of fuel were spilled during an inept tank removal process in 2006, according to a 2013 Cortez Journal article, and that the resultant groundwater contamination was then exacerbated by an effort to measure its extent.
But this was disputed — as was the amount of any pollution that may have occurred — by Souter, Miller and Associates, an engineering firm hired by Fraley and Company, at the time the local Sinclair distributor. McCarty also accused the engineering firm of trespassing on his land to drill numerous test wells.
In 2012, McCarty, represented by attorney James Preston, unsuccessfully sought $1.7 million in damages from SMA, but was awarded just $1 by a federal court jury. The jury decided that the firm did trespass, since no written permission to do the work was given by McCarty, but was not convinced he suffered extensive financial loss or that great environmental damage had resulted from the drilling. Other serpentine legal maneuvers involving the extent of alleged damage continue, however, with McCarty representing himself and his wife.
The contentious property owner has also rejected a state regulatory agency’s proposed plan of correction, which would be done without cost to him, and denied further access to the property.
McCarty delivered a protracted presentation to the Montezuma County Commission last year during which he charged that the contamination had caused his daughter to become seriously ill and rendered the property worthless.
In an effort to disassociate itself from the flap, Sinclair argued in court in May that the proximity of its sign to those erected by McCarty causes passing motorists to form a negative impression of the company, thus harming the brand.
Lynn Hart, a company vice president, said his duties include monitoring the familiar silhouette to see that it isn’t disparaged or exploited.
“It’s all about the trademark – the green-colored dinosaur,” Hunt said. “We’re concerned about the juxtaposition of the two [signs].
“I’m sure people are perplexed — ‘Does Sinclair have anything to do with the skull and crossbones?’ We believe Sinclair has been damaged.”
It is standard practice for Sinclair to retrieve its signs when a location goes out of business, he said, and dealers are never allowed to retain them.
“This is one in a million – I’ve never seen anything like this.”
But McCarty responded that the sign, which has been on his property for 21 years, belongs to him. He argued that if the sign was considered the property of Sinclair, the company should compensate him for two decades of advertising.
He also tried to offer into evidence eBay listings of other antique Sinclair memorabilia for sale, maintaining that for the company to try to reclaim the sign at this point would be like the owner of a Red Ryder B-B gun being asked by sidekick Little Beaver to give it back, or Budweiser asking for its empty beer cans to be returned.
Although obviously amused, Lass rejected this argument and warned McCarty repeatedly to focus on the matter at issue: to whom this particular sign belongs.
Following the testimony, Lass issued a preliminary ruling giving Sinclair Corporation, as owner of the trademark, permission to remove its personal property – i.e., the sheet-metal Sinclair banner wrapped around the canopy. Lass said the company would need to reach an agreement with the Montezuma County Sheriff ’s Office and, most likely, a contractor to do the actual work.
McCarty was given 10 days to respond to the ruling and filed an answer May 22 that maintained the statute of limitations on recovering the property has expired, and requesting a jury trial on the matter.
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