North Carolina residents are starting to feel the impact of a law passed by that state’s legislature which allows billboard companies much greater leeway to cut down and remove trees and vegetation on the public right of way.
The law, S.B. 183/S.L 397, took effect in March 2012 and increases the zone that billboard companies are allowed to clear cut around their signs to 380 feet on either side of a double-sided billboard. The law also overrides any local ordinances that protect trees along state rights of way and weakened NC DOT’s ability to control and penalize illegal tree removal.
The effects of this new law are starting to be seen around the state. The photos on the right were provided by a resident of the Wesley Heights neighborhood in Charlotte, which is adjacent to Interstate 77. The neighborhood has long enjoyed a canopy of trees and vegetation that provide a buffer from the noise and traffic of the highway. But in May 2013 most of those trees were removed to clear the view of a billboard.
You can see from the photos how dramatic the impact is. The top photo is facing the billboard from a side street, with the Interstate on the left. The middle photo looks between houses onto the highway, and the bottom photo was taken from the Interstate looking towards the neighborhood. The quality of life for Wesley Heights residents has been significantly diminished, and Charlotte’s city arborist decried the cutting. Yet thanks to the new law, there was nothing they could do to stop it.
NC DOT estimates that the law will allow billboard companies to clear cut public trees valued at 15 million dollars over the next 5 years, and will result in an 80% increase in clear cutting along the state’s Interstates and other major roadways.
Scenic America strongly opposes the practice of tree cutting around billboards.