Image: Fiberglass cactus
City of Albuquerque via AP
This undated photo provided by the City of Albuquerque shows the $50,000 fiberglass cactus made as part of a public art project.
msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 2/17/2011 3:40:18 PM ET 2011-02-17T20:40:18

The good news about a giant fiberglass cactus reported stolen in New Mexico is that it wasn't the target of thieves.

The bad news is that the $50,000 cactus is in a landfill and won't be returning to the park where it once stood.

Albuquerque city officials reported the statue stolen this week. But two city employees quickly came forward, saying they removed the bright-green cactus from the park and mistakenly had it sent to the dump.

The workers were sent to the park to fix things after the statue was reported vandalized. But then things went awry.

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City spokesman Chris Ramirez said Wednesday that the employees didn't realize the cactus was part of a public art project.

High school students spent a summer building the art piece shaped like a prickly pear cactus. They were part of a nonprofit group that provides art education for at-risk kids.

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“After talking extensively with the employees involved is that they just didn't know and that it was an honest mistake,” Ramirez said.

“The solid waste truck took it took it to the landfill, where's it's since been compacted and buried,” Ramirez said, according to KOAT.com.

“It’s incredibly tragic and inexcusable that city employees made that decision by themselves,” said Nan Elsasser, who runs Working Classroom, the nonprofit organization whose students created the sculpture for the city with $50,000 in state funds, KOAT.com reported.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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