It was one year ago today that I wrote to ask you to oppose a senate bill that would have created a permitting process allowing billboard companies to destroy public trees in the public right-of-way along highways in order to assure billboard visibility by the motoring public. I am writing this year to again ask that you again oppose such a bill, jacketed this year as House Bill 582.
KRC opposes the bill because we dispute the premise of the bill – that destruction of public timber stands in order to accommodate the billboard industry’s desire to assure the visibility of their advertisements is appropriate public policy. There is no legitimate expectation for billboard owners, particularly for nonconforming billboards, of the ability to control highway rights-of-way to assure visibility by the motoring public.
What does the bill do?
* It allows issuance of “view” permits to advertising companies allowing them to “trim or prune.” But it is the billboard view that is being advanced, not any scenic view, and it is not trimming and pruning done for the health of the tree. Instead, “trim and prune” is defined as the “selective removal of vegetation” that obscure or “interfere with the effectiveness” of billboards on interstate highways. The bill allows removal of all trees from public rights-of-way within a 500-foot swath in front of billboards and up to 700 feet where the billboards are of a V orientation.
* Allows right-of-way tree destruction even for billboards that are nonconforming under law – meaning that the billboard does not comply with laws or regulations, such as zoning rules, that are adopted after the billboard was erected. Since the bill would allow permits for all “legally erected” billboards, rather than focusing on whether the billboards are currently legal, nonconforming billboards that Congress contemplated would be eliminated, and illegal billboards, would be eligible to cut trees to assure their visibility.
* Allows “repair permits” for nonconforming billboards that will enable owners to extend the life of billboards that under are supposed to be removed because they do not conform to the location and other requirements of law. Existing regulation considers a billboard to be “destroyed” if over 50% of the billboard and supports are destroyed. The bill would require that 50% of the value of the board be destroyed before it would have to be removed, and provides no standard for valuing the billboard.
* Additionally, the bill allows removal of vegetation not only where the vegetation is in fact currently obscuring the billboard message, but also where the trees might in the next two years, obscure or “interfere with the effectiveness of” a billboard.
* Is internally inconsistent, providing in Section 3(1) that these permits have a 7-year life with no limit on the number of times that cutting can occur, and in Section 4, limiting each permit to a one time trimming or pruning with a maximum 180-day duration.
* Requires a $200 permit fee in Section 3 and a $150 fee in Section 4.
* Requires the Transportation Cabinet to monitor and inspect the “trimming and pruning” yet does not provide notice to the agency as to when the activity will occur.
* Provides a minimal penalty for violations of $100 per day, and then provides a “free bite” for even intentional violations of the Act if corrected within 30 days of being caught violating either the trimming and pruning requirements or limits on repairing nonconforming billboards.
* Does not preserve local government authority to establish its own standards for billboards.
For these reasons, I encourage you to oppose this year’s iteration of the billboard bill.