KRC Submits Testimony In Opposition To Billboard Bill SB 133

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KRC Submits Testimony In Opposition To Billboard Bill SB 133  Posted: February 10, 2010


Before the Senate Transportation Committee
February 10, 2010

Mr. Chairman, Committee members, for as long as this issue has been before the General Assembly, the Kentucky Resources Council has opposed the destruction of public trees along the roadsides of interstate highways for the purpose of assuring private billboard companies visual access to an already distracted motoring public. In the name of consistency and so as not to disappoint Senator Harris, I appear here again to do so.

KRC opposes the bill because we oppose the premise ? that destruction of public timber stands is appropriate in order to accommodate the billboard industry’s desire to assure the visibility of their advertisements to a captive motoring public.

The bill creates a process for issuance of permits to advertising companies allowing “trimming or pruning,” but it is not trimming and pruning in the usual sense of the word.

Instead, “trim and prune” is defined as the “selective removal of vegetation” that obscure or “interfere with the effectiveness” of billboards on interstate highways, limited access highways, and federal aid primary highways. 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.

Members of the Committee, I don’t know about you but if I told my spouse that I was going to “trim” and “prune” the yard and then cut down all of the trees and shrubs, I’d be in serious trouble.

There is a lack of clarity in the language of the bill. The phrase “selective removal of vegetation in front of an advertising device” could be construed as selective removal of a limb of a tree, which is the more traditional meaning of “pruning,” or complete destruction of the tree. The Tree Care Industry ANSI Standard A300 that is referenced in the definition of “trim or prune” devotes 31 pages to discussions about how to prune a tree in order to promote the health of the tree, yet in one sentence of the ANSI Standard 300 at 5.5.3 suggests that where repeated pruning would be necessary to avoid conflicts with “view” that removal should be considered.

Clarification is needed as to the scope of authorized activities here – is the trimming and pruning allowed in the bill limited to that which is needed for tree health, or is it the health of the company whose commercial message isn’t being as effective as it might be in distracting the motoring public that we are attempting to advance?

Left without further clarification, KRC reads the bill as authorizing the 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, in order to provide a billboard owner a privilege that under law is not a legitimate expectation – the right to indefinitely destroy public resources to assure that the motoring public will be exposed in perpetuity to the commercial message on the billboard.

An additional threshold concern is whether the bill intends to allow destruction of public stands of trees in front of nonconforming billboards or of permitted boards. There are a significant number of billboards that do not meet the standards imposed under the highway beautification law, and that are “nonconforming” yet legally erected before that law took effect, and this bill would appear to allow destruction of trees in order to assure visibility of boards for which there is no legitimate expectation of continued exposure.

KRC believes that destruction of public trees and other property in order to guarantee exposure of commercial messages to a motoring public on public thoroughfares is inappropriate as a matter of public policy. A billboard owner has no more a legitimate expectation of being able to cut down public trees in rights-of-way than it has in assuming that the right-of-way will never host a state sign, or be changed in grade, or otherwise might come to obscure the billboard.

A threshold problem to meaningful discussion of this issue has been the lack of objective information concerning the nature and extent of the visibility "problem" asserted by the billboard industry to exist. The issue and alleged need for the bill has been based on anecdotal discussion rather than any comprehensive factual basis, making it difficult to determine the scope or severity of the "problem" sought to be addressed.

KRC suggests, as it has in previous for the past 12 years, that LRC staff or the Transportation Cabinet be asked to investigate the manner in which other state and local governments manage the conflicts concerning public right-of-way vegetative growth and outdoor advertising devices; and to collect documentation concerning the nature and scope of the "problem" in the Commonwealth. During the many years since this issue has been before this body, I have made a point of looking at the roadside tree stands, and as you go home this week I would urge you to do so. There are some fairly extensive stands of healthy trees along our highways that could be lost if the state policy were to change.

I ask that you not support the bill since it takes us down a road to a policy that we believe is unsound. People don’t visit our state to view our billboards. We have developed informational board systems that provide motorists with needed information on amenities in a less distracting manner. Visitors come to take in the beauty of our state, and it would be a less attractive landscape with those trees removed in order to support the imposition of some commercial message from a billboard to the motoring public.

Thank you.
By Kentucky Resources Council on 02/10/2010 5:32 PM
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