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E-M:/ Groups speak out against billboard proliferation

Enviro-Mich message from MUCC <mucc@mucc.org>

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:	   CONTACT: Rick Jameson or Julie Metty,
MARCH 23, 1998		 	      MUCC: 517/371-1041							  	                   
Mary Lou Tanton, 
				      Scenic MI: 616/347-4511


State Senator Leon Stille (R-Spring Lake) announced today that his
effort to increase controls on billboard advertising is strongly
supported by many groups representing a variety of interests, including
civic, environmental and outdoor recreation organizations.  

"I am pleased my legislation, Senate Bill 445, has the support of so
many different groups," said Stille.  "People come to Michigan to enjoy
the natural beauty of our state.  In recent years we have seen
billboards encroach on even our most scenic routes and roadsides.  We
need to put forth careful controls so that we may better protect our
state's scenic qualities."

Introduced last year, Stille's legislation, entitled "The Scenic
Michigan Initiative," proposed several changes to the Highway
Advertising Act in an effort to control the amount of billboard
proliferation along Michigan's highways.  The contents of the Scenic
Michigan Initiative have been under negotiation for several months
because of protests by the outdoor advertising industry.   

A compromise between the billboard industry and those interested in
reducing billboard blight was sought in an attempt to gain support for
the legislation, realizing that the failures of similar attempts in the
past were due to the billboard lobby's tightly clinched fists around our
Legislature.  The most recent effort, like many others, has also been
frustrated by the billboard industry's unwillingness to compromise, not
even on something as minor as changing the name of the Highway
Advertising Act to the Scenic Michigan Act. 

"The effort to remove some of the visual litter from Michigan's Highways
has historically been unrelenting and unrewarding," said Mary Lou
Tanton, president of Scenic Michigan.  "The tide seemed to be turning
last year with the introduction of two billboard control bills.  Senator
Stille was joined in his effort to increase billboard regulations by
Senator Loren Bennett (R-Canton), who introduced Senate Bill 341 banning
tobacco advertising on billboards.  History seems to be repeating
itself, though, as Senator Bennett's bill has been sitting in the House
Transportation Committee, chaired by Representative Burton Leland
(D-Detroit), for the last 10 months and Senate Bill 445 bill has been in
the Senate Committee on Local, Urban and State Affairs, chaired by
Stille, for nearly a year."     

Senator Stille, because of his dedication to the issue and support from
the public, is exploring going forward with a modified version of his
bill.  This substitute legislation would ban future construction of
monster double-decker billboards, increase permit fees to end taxpayer
subsidies for government oversight, and allow county governments to
regulate billboards.  Although this seems to be a minor proposal, it is
still facing opposition by the outdoor advertising industry.

 In a March 6, 1998 letter, organizations including the Michigan United
Conservation Clubs, Scenic Michigan, and Michigan Environmental Council
asked the Legislature to ignore the pressure of the billboard industry
and support Senate Bill 445.  Stille's effort to increase billboard
controls also enjoys the strong support of many other organizations,
including the Center for Wildland Conservation, Federated Garden Clubs
of Michigan, Michigan Association of Counties, the Lone Tree Council,
Michigan Land Use Institute, Michigan Municipal League, Michigan
Townships Association, Mid-Michigan Environmental Action Council, Rails
to Trails, Sierra Club-Mackinac Chapter, and Urban Options.  

"It is obvious that the billboard industry has shackled our state
lawmakers," said Richard L. Jameson, executive director of the Michigan
United Conservation Clubs.  "For years they have ignored the dramatic
increase in billboards along our roadsides and the detrimental effect
this has on our state's natural beauty.  The Michigan Department of
Transportation reports that the number of signs has increased from 6,099
in 1972 to 12,058 in 1996.  Michigan is 8th out of all 50 states in
total number of billboard sign faces, according to Scenic America.  The
national scenic conservation organization also reports that, on the
average, travelers see 13 billboards every 10 miles they are on Federal
Aid Highways in Michigan.  A state whose second largest industry is
tourism cannot allow these eyesores to continue obliterating views of
our Great Lakes, sand dunes, forests and unique communities."

Support for this legislation goes beyond interest groups, though.  The
citizens of Michigan are also disgusted by the billboard industry's
disregard for the importance of scenic preservation to Michigan's
economy and tourism industry.  The results of a statewide EPIC/MRA
survey last September proved that Michigan citizens have the attitude of
"enough is enough" regarding billboard proliferation.  Of those polled,
67 percent thought there were too many billboards along Michigan's
highways and 60 percent favored a total ban on new billboards.  


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