PORTLAND (AP) – Thirty years after Gov. James Longley signed into law Maine’s ban on billboards, those roadside signs advertising everything from motels to cigarettes have become a distant memory for many state residents.
Supporters of the ban say the benefit of the law – natural landscapes uncluttered by roadside obstructions – has been priceless.
“It’s become part of our quality of place,” said Dana Connors, president of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, who was transportation commissioner when the last billboard acquired by the state was cut down with chain saws in 1984.
Not everyone, however, believes that doing away with billboards was a good idea. Carolyn Dobson, a former owner of the Desert of Maine in Freeport, said it was bad for local businesses.
“If you speak to any small business person who’s not on Route 1, they’ll tell you it was the worst disaster they encountered,” said Dobson, who with her husband, Sid, owned the attraction from 1984 to 2004.
Only three other state – Vermont, Alaska and Hawaii – have adopted similar bans, and Kevin Fry, president of the anti-billboard group .
“The state legislatures have been completely captured by the billboard industry,” said Fry, adding that highways across America now contain more billboards than when Congress passed the 1965 Federal Highway Beautification Act championed by Lady Bird Johnson.
Other states have advertisements on digital billboards and wraps that cover buildings. In Florida, according to Fry, a law designates a 500-foot view zone for each face of a billboard and requires obscuring trees to be cut.
“You have no idea in Maine how lucky you are that you’ve protected yourselves,” he said.
After Longley signed the Maine Travelers Information Act in 1977, court challenges delayed the law’s implementation for two years. Over the next five years, 8,500 billboards were removed at a cost of $4.7 million, most of it from federal funds.
Marion Fuller Brown of York, the former lawmaker who led the anti-billboard campaign, recalled how industry lobbyists tried to derail the measure.
Under the law, off-premise billboards – those not on the property of the advertising business – gave way to small signs with the business name, the distance to the location and an arrow pointing which way to go. They are allowed in spots where the traveler must change direction to reach the destination.
Efforts to weaken Maine’s billboard ban have continued over the years. The Travel Information Advisory Council, the body that advises the transportation commissioner on the law, still testifies on proposed changes and educates lawmakers about the ban’s history, said Brown, a member.
“I bet there are legislators who have never seen a billboard in Maine,” she said. “They can’t imagine it.”
Information from: Portland Press Herald, http://www.pressherald.com