Monday, August 15, 2011

575 miles of Trees will soon Vanish from NC Roadsides

North Carolinians will soon see 575 miles of trees disappear from roadsides, deforesting 100 miles more than the span of the entire state, corner to corner, from Manteo in the northeast to Murphy in the southwest thanks to legislation pushed through the General Assembly on behalf of lobbyists for the outdoor billboard industry by two State Senators.Capture

Former Department of Transportation roadside executive Bill Johnson has also gleaned that even the extremely conservative $12 million estimated value of the trees the legislation will eliminate was mysteriously zeroed out of the fiscal impact of the bill, virtually delivering, in the minds of many experts, an illegal public gratuity under the constitution.

The new legislation will not only clear-cut 2,000 acres of trees in the state, but the method of calculating the $12 million loss to NC citizens is based on out-dated measures that haven’t been adjusted to take into account the value researchers have documented showing that over 50 years, a single tree provides $31,250 worth of oxygen, $62,000 worth of air pollution control, $37,500 worth of recycled water, and $31,500 worth of soil erosion control.

The cost of the bill also does not reflect the value of the invaluable scenic easements the billboards destroy, thereby effectively giving the outdoor billboard industry a complimentary anti-scenic easement for the 8,000 outdoor billboards that wallpaper the state, blighting one of the pivotal attributes drawing tourism and new employers to North Carolina.

And the $12 million loss to the state from the legislation definitely fails to include what a new study will soon reveal is an average decrease of $34,000 in the value for every home located near a billboard.

Judging from observations during my six different routes across this country over the past year, North Carolina’s ability to live up to its legendary scenery has already been severely eroded and a major culprit is the outdoor billboard industry.  It is impossible to describe the blight billboards create on our state until you traverse states with little or no such obstruction.

Maybe an even bigger surprise for North Carolinians will be that the bill doesn’t really protect large trees as hoped. The legislation ostensibly prohibited removing large trees of a certain size but industry lobbyists and sponsors inserted loophole-wording defining size not at the present but back when the billboards were first installed, essentially placing every tree at risk, regardless of current size.

Further more, the new legislation will permit outdoor billboard companies, without DOT supervision, to buzz cut the trees and vegetation to the ground, not just low enough to make the bill board visible.  Even before the legislation took effect, North Carolina’s overall tree cover had fallen below 60%, below the average of many of its urban cities like Durham.

Are the 9% of our state’s residents who indicate they use billboards weekly really worth the risk to businesses of alienating the nearly 7 of every 10 North Carolinians who view them as blight let alone sacrificing the tremendous hidden cost to the state in loss of trees and scenic view shed?

Unfortunately, according to emotional branding guru Marc Gobé, speaking month before last, “at the end of the day, it is the brands themselves who end up shouldering the responsibility [for outdoor billboards] as well as the brunt of citizen frustration…their very presence as outdoor advertising has made them the scapegoat.”

Gobé isn’t alone.  Dating back to pioneers of the “Mad Men” era, advertising and marketing giants such as David Ogilvy and Howard Gossage have discouraged use of outdoor billboards and cited their detrimental effects.

This also isn’t just a political issue.  Overwhelming opposition in polls to billboards is consistent among Independents, Republicans and Democrats.  Other Republican leaders tried in vain to reason with the two sponsoring Republican advocates fronting for this legislation on behalf of special interests lobbyists.

Even the “standard-bearer for American conservatism”, the late William F. Buckley, wrote in an article entitled The Politics of Beauty  that “billboards are acts of aggression, against which the public is entitled, as a matter of privacy, to be protected…the big name libertarian theorists should go to work demolishing the billboarders’ abuse of the argument of private property.”

Maybe this new legislation, while too late to prevent further blight, will be a blessing in disguise and the blatant over-reaching will further impassion the 80% of voters it offends according to scientific polling by Public Policy including nearly 70% who never utilize outdoor billboards for information and find them a detraction from community and state appearance.

More on that later.

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