Scenic NC requests legal block to new tree cutting in billboard zones

Opponents of the state’s new billboard law are filing a complaint and temporary restraining order request today, Feb. 29, in Wake County Superior Court. The legal action by Scenic NC, Inc., is aimed at keeping the N.C. Department of Transportation from permitting vegetation removal – primarily trees – in front of billboards and other outdoor advertising under new temporary rules set to take effect tomorrow, March 1.

In tandem, at last night’s Asheville City Council session, Judy Mattox of the WENOCA Sierra Club asked the city to file an amicus brief in support of the pending lawsuit, which Mayor Terry Bellamy noted is being researched by the city attorney’s office. The city is on record as opposing the new law that created the rules situation. (Western North Carolina Alliance, commented by email. WNCA is also encouraging local governments in the region to join the lawsuit.

Scenic NC is arguing that a hold on permitting is warranted because DOT did not allow adequate public participation when it established temporary rules for a new state law (SB 183). The law significantly expands the cutting zone and creates a path for clear-cutting in the public right-of-way for private outdoor advertisers. Lack of opportunity for public comment, the organization claims, is in violation of the N.C. Administrative Procedures Act.

At the core of the legal brief, prepared by the Duke Law and Policy Clinic, is the claim that the temporary rules made available for comment by the public on Nov. 28, 2011, were substantially different from a new version submitted Jan. 13, 2012, to the Rules Review Commission (which adopted the temporary rules on Jan. 19). The request for delay in the new rules would not keep billboard owners from applying for permits under the old rules, which apply to a smaller viewing zone and do not allow clear-cutting.

According to David Weintraub, director of the Environmental and Conservation Organization (ECO) in Hendersonville, the effects of proceeding with the new rules would “kill the goose that laid the golden egg.”

“What makes this place special, and a stark contrast from most communities, is its tree canopy,” Weintraub said by email. “In Henderson County, half a billion dollars came into our county from tourism alone in the past three years. If we allow private industry to remove trees along the public right of away, we’ve essentially given away the public till, not to mention jobs and industry.”

by Nelda Holder, contributing editor

For more information regarding the new billboard law and its provisions, see “Perfectly Clear: New Billboard Law Allows Increased Tree Cutting,” Xpress, Feb. 23.



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