Sunday, June 29, 2008

NCDOT's excessive affections

Luckily for my kitchen I didn't have food or coffee in my mouth when I read the complaint below from an attorney for the N.C. Outdoor Advertising Association (a.k.a. the billboard lobby), about North Carolina's Department of Transportation.

First, the backstory. The billboard industry wants to be able to legally cut more trees in front of billboards, so that you, the motoring public, can better view those ads. (You might say it's as if your friendly local newspaper wanted permission to kill more housecats if they have the nerve to jump into your lap and obscure your views of the Queen City TV ads. In other words, if a billboard's in a bad place, remove it or charge less for it.) Current state rules say billboard owners can clear trees and shrubs from 250 feet in front of signs. The industry wants to raise that to 375 feet. So far, the bill hasn't passed the N.C. House.

Further, there's a spat between the billboard lobby and NCDOT. Note that word "legally" above. Upon occasion, trees are illegally cut in front of billboards. The NCDOT releases an "illegal cutting inventory," that lists the names of billlboard owners and businesses where the trees were cut. The billboard lobby wants the list to include only the mile markers, no names.

The names on that list, billboard industry lawyer Betty Waller of Cary wrote, may prejudice the public against the billboard owners, by implying they're engaged in criminal conduct.

"Unfortunately, NCDOT has demonstrated an unyielding preference for vegetation, and has been unwilling to adopt a vegetation policy equally accommodating to commerce,” she wrote.

I don't say this often, so pay attention: Hooray for the DOT, for its "unyielding preference for vegetation," in this instance.

Read the full story here. Or turn to page 2B of today's Observer.

And I'll leave you with some verse by the inimitable Ogden Nash:

"I think that I shall never see
a billboard lovely as a tree.
Indeed, unless the billboards fall
I’ll never see a tree at all."


Anonymous said...

Mary, you have some nerve to criticize another industry for cutting down trees. Your own employer is one of the most environmentally destructive companies on the planet.

How many trees PER DAY are cut down to produce the 3 million newspapers?

How on earth are you in a position to criticize another industry for cutting down a few trees so their advertisments can be visible? Isn't that exactly what the Charlotte Observer does EVERY DAY on a massive scale?

Do you even recognize the hypocrisy of you raising this issue?

Anonymous said...


Rather than being a loud mouthed blogger, why don't you stick to the topic?

Newspapers should definitely make more efficient use of resources, but the billboard industry should leave well enough alone as well.

Anonymous said...

I disagree here. Billboard companies should have the ability to cut obstructions that get in the way of their product beong seen. Some people will scream about them being eyesores and ruining the beauty of the area around it. I'm sorry, but most interstates and streets where billboards are are not that pretty to begin with. If I want beauty on my next roadtrip, I will take a slower trip through the country. as for billboards, I see the beauty of commerce and the creativeity or art and advertising. billboard companies are not the criminals that Mary and some of her cohorts like to paint them as. Common sense laws people!

Anonymous said...

That is ironic for an employee of a newspaper company to criticize another industry for cutting down trees.

For all we know, the trees cut down in front of the billboards were used at a paper mill to print newspapers.

In that case, the Charlotte Observer should be grateful that the trees were cut down in front of the billboards.

Anonymous said...

It seems pretty obvious that a common-sense law would allow the billboard owner to cut down, or at least prune to a smaller height so as not to obstruct, any trees between the billboard and the section of the road where the billboard is intended to be seen. Any current billboards would be automatically granted this right; any future billboards would have to declare up front the parameters (road section length, billboard height, etc.) so that the area of trees that might require cutting/trimming is known in advance of actually building the billboard.

Anonymous said...

I would side with the billboard industry on this one. Of course they should have the right to remove or prune trees that interfere with the line of sight between the driver and the billboard.

The billboard doesn't move. The trees can grow over time to become a barrier.

Also, if most other states are already at 375 feet, why not bring our NC laws up to the current standards?

These areas on highways are typically not scenic corridors or anything. What is the big deal about a few trees in that type of highway corridor?

This seems like a silly topic for environmentalists to gear up over. This is minor in the big scheme of things.

Lost Without Angelz said...

Ha! Hypocrisy is a lovely thing. A tree-eating newspaper employee praising the DOT for saving trees...

But aside from that... Don't we have better things to worry about than the trees and bushes in front of billboards?

How about worrying about: never-ending construction on I85 headed north; the rush-hour parking lot otherwise known as I77; among other things.

I'm for CONSERVING things but since when has this become the DOT's responsibility? And since it sounds more like PRESERVATION and not CONSERVATION. I'd prefer to have those trees in a nice large tract of area.... Used and replenished in an effort to conserve a natural resource.

How many motorists drive down the road and really truly care how pretty the trees are at any point of the road, let alone around billboards?

I don't think I can see this at 70 MPH: "Oh look Marge. Those trees are so beautiful... and you can barely see the billboard."

Rick said...

The owners of the billboards are no different than the homeowners in Highland Creek who didn't realize a pre-existing manure plant next to their houses might stink a little, or the NIMBEs in 4th ward who didn't want a bar in their urban, yet ANWR-like, pristine neighborhood.

They bought properly in a certain place, and then when the natural conditions of that place are not to their liking, they feel it is their duty, no their God given right, to change the rules.

Somebody fertilize those trees.

Oh, and welcome back Mary.

rebecca said...

Having just endured an afternoon at the DMV, I would say this sister agency of the NCDOT also has an "unyielding preference for vegetation," - they are called employees! Welcome back Mary!

Anonymous said...

The pro-billboard comments here remind me of a sad fact about life in North Carolina: The abundance of natural beauty in the state is taken for granted.

Oh, no problem, cut down a few thousand more trees along the highways so we can see that Dockside Dolls billboard a little better; and while you're at it, cut down a forest or two to build some more megamansion developments and big box stores -- hey, where did all the trees go?

Commerce is important. But the assumption that what's good for commerce overrides all other considerations is so 19th century. As one commenter said, you bought that property, you knew what the rules were. And if it is illegal to cut down those trees, then yes, the billboard companies are, in fact, committing crimes.

Maybe once NC has cut down all the trees, we'll finally realize how good we used to have it.

And for those of you talking about how many trees the newspaper uses, aren't we all reading this online? I assume you all recycle your newspapers, too, right?

Anonymous said...

What's more dangerous, a newspaper printed on partially recycled paper or IGNORANCE?

NC_Native said...

After reading many of the comments here, I now understand why North Carolina has some of the ugliest roadsides in the country due to the number of billboards it allows. "Y'all just rip down them trees so as we kin see them ad-ver-TIZE-mints better."

Excuse me while I spit my terbaccuh juice.

Anonymous said...

How about they chop down the trees to widen the damn roads or build more rail lines!

Anonymous said...

How about the advertisers pay to put their ads closer to the highway? like on the pavement? Maybe they'll be able to contribute enough to widen 85.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Interesting piece. So the request is to change how far trees might be removed to be able to see a billboard.

If the billboard company owns the land, they probably should be allowed to cut the trees. More likely they don't and are requesting removal of trees on DOT right of way, which is why they have to make the request.

Perhaps the DOT should charge a per foot rental of the property where the trees are to be cut. It then becomes a cost of the advertising and whether or not the market will bear the charge.

It seems the real question is whether or not every road should look like the Blue Ridge Parkway with strip malls and and big boxes.

ie. Walmart just built on NC 150 and had no problem removing trees on the right of way. There is a huge sign, lots of asphalt etc. This replaced trees and undergrowth. What difference is there between this use and just a sign?

I would prefer a limitation on signage size because I would like the information which is available. Something between the state signs which tell us which gas or restaurant is available, but only at the last instant, and the huge billboards.

For the traveling public billboards can provide good information, but the abuse is in the size. But is it actually abuse? Or is it just some people think it shouldn't be there?

Actually, if the billboard companies had to cut the land in front of their signs twice a year, we might increase the bobwhite population, which I find as important as trees.

Lewis Guignard

Anonymous said...

It simply cannot be that hard to balance commerce with aesthetics. Interstates seem designed to destroy any semblance of natural beauty within eye- or ear-shot. Billboards are perhaps the ugliest and most intrusive form of advertising this side of pop-ups. And now we're supposed to believe that, in the barren concrete landscape of our interstate corridors, we have to axe what little vegetation still exists so that billboard sightlines aren't obstructed?

Perhaps we should go back to the drawing board and start designing things a little more intelligently in the first place, so that our grandchildren will have a shot at experiencing "beauty" within 100 miles of their homes.

Anonymous said...

30% of all newsprints in the USA is imported from China. The newsprint suppliers from China obtain their raw material (trees) from 3rd world country forests and they do it in an unsustainable manner.

McClatchy (owner of the Charlotte Observer) is the 3rd largest buyer of this imported rainforest newsprint that is destroying critical habitat around the world.

So who is the biggest danger to the environment? Some billboard companies when they cut down scrub trees? Or McClatchy (and the Charlotte Observer) when they consume rainforest trees for your daily newspaper?

They both stink. But I find it hilarious that a newspaper employee (Mary Newsom) doesn't even realize that she is part of the problem.

eye_dee_ten_tea said...

Anybody ever thought of selling advertising space on the sides of CATS buses?

Nah, why bother when you can just keep robbing the taxpayers....

LNBruno said...

anon @ 7/01/2008 08:32:00 AM said:

"I find it hilarious that a newspaper employee (Mary Newsom) doesn't even realize that she is part of the problem."

And I immediately thought "can't see the forest for the trees..."

Okay, okay. I'm moving on. ;-)

Anonymous said...

Anybody ever thought of selling advertising space on the sides of CATS buses?

Yes, it was thought about and discussed. Turns out that people would rather our transit system NOT look like the back page of Creative Loafing.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

"Yes, it was thought about and discussed. Turns out that people would rather our transit system NOT look like the back page of Creative Loafing."

Really? Were the people polled about that? I don't remember anyone asking me what I thought about it.

The function of public buses is to move people around the city in as cost-effective a way as possible. If that means selling ad space on the buses, then sell ad space on the buses. This is not a beauty competition. If it comes down to more taxes or uglying up the buses a little bit, I know which choice I would make.

Anonymous said...

WelCome back Mary!

The Billboard companies already get to cut trees along our highways, I believe 250 feet from their billboard. That isn't enough for them. They want to nearly double the area of trees that can be removed. Why should we allow a private interest the ability to cut public trees?

The billboard industry has no regard for rules. Several multiple message rotating billboards and digital boards we put up in Charlotte without proper permits. The only thing they are interested in is making a profit at our expense.

Anonymous said...

"The only thing they are interested in is making a profit at our expense."

Welcome to a capitalist society people. That's how it works.

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