Three years ago, just before Christmas, a 9.3-meter-high red mailbox was set up at Sjøområdet by Po Lin Lee, a Hong Kong native planning to start a tourism business in Longyearbyen. The box is decorated with international flags, a green neon light on top and the words "Santa Claus Town Longyearbyen" in white lettering on the side.
Didn't notify the neighbors
A temporary permit to set up the mailbox was approved by Longyearbyen's municipal government. According to Linn Tautra Grønseth, head of the city's planning and development department, the original permit was valid for two years.
Lee applied to extend the agreement last November and was told she needed to notify the mailbox's neighbors before the matter would be considered. She did not do so, meaning the mailbox is now illegal.
The city sent a letter Aug. 23 to Lee stating they have considered the matter and the application deadline will not be extended. The letter states the mailbox must be removed by the end of this month.
Attempts by Svalbardposten this week to reach Lee by phone and e-mail were unsuccessful.
"Ever since I was a little girl I have known that Santa Claus comes from the North Pole," she said when the mailbox was set up. "This is the northernmost city in the world, so Santa Claus must live here."
Her intention was that the highly visible mailbox would be a nice gift to Longyearbyen. Her hope was such initiatives would be well received by tourists and increase activity.
The mailbox was going to be operated by the charity Polar Seed, which Lee started in 2009. It was the organization's first project. The business model was to offer postcards from Santa Claus via the internet. Lee envisioned working with local artists on designs for the postcards.
What were her plans for the letters dropped into the mailbox?
"We will read them and some we will fulfill its wishes," she told Svalbardposten before the mailbox was unveiled. "Then we must ask the parents if this has been a good child and,if enough money has come in through the sale of postcards and other things, we will fulfill the wish next year."
Since the opening, there has hardly been any registered activity involving the lofty ediface.
'Good that it will be removed'
The Santa Claus mailbox is frequently photographed and filled with tourists' letters, but postal officials in Longyearbyen have not been enthusiastic about it. The cards that are inserted in the mailbox usually take a long time to be removed and mailed to their receipents.
"We think it's very good that it will be removed, to be honest with customers," said Ann-Sofi Nyback, regional manager for Norway Post in Troms and Svalbard.
"We will emerge as the proper vendor," she said. "Tourists must begin to wonder when things go weeks and months before the mail is delivered. We have created a poster for her with information that it was not a delivery mailbox from Norway, but it is not hung up."
Svalbardposten wrote about the case in April, during which attempts to reach Lee for comment were also unsuccessful.
Translated by Mark Sabbatini