Lamar Advertising wants electronic billboards



Wednesday the Providence City Council Ordinances Commission, chaired by the Council member Nicolas Narducci Jr, will accept a proposal from the display company Lamar Advertising to allow the conversion of some static billboards in electronic message boards. But the people of Providence want the request rejected because Lamar Advertising is a bad actor illegally cutting trees in a neighborhood fighting for environmental justice.

City council reached an agreement in principle with Lamar Advertising, a Louisiana-based company, to enable the conversion. It must leave the ordinances commission before the municipal council votes on it in plenary session. The committee meeting is the only place where the public will be allowed to comment on the proposal. The plan is that in exchange for permission to convert certain billboards to electronic message boards, Lamar will cede an equal amount of square feet of smaller boards that he owns and operates throughout Providence. These signs are mostly seen as visual clutter and burning. Removing them will improve the neighborhoods they currently occupy, but in return, up to 25 electronic billboards could be created along the highways that cross Providence, according to the proposed ordinance.

As Scenic america, a national nonprofit organization that “helps citizens protect the scenic qualities of America’s highways,” said in their testimony that the square footage agreement “compares unfavorably” to the agreements reached in Kansas City, MO, where a seven-to-one conversion agreement was entered into, or the ten-to-one conversion agreement entered into by Tampa, FL. Doing less than these cities is a financial boon for Lamar and does not benefit the City of Providence at all.

Other letters of opposition to the proposed deal came from Fox Point Neighborhood Association, the Society for the Preservation of Providence, and the Washington Park Neighborhood Association. Fox Point and Washington Park will be the most affected communities, as they are crossed by freeways. Opponents note that electronic billboards contribute to dangerous driving by distracting drivers and adding light pollution to neighborhoods adjacent to freeways.

Tree cut

Recently, Lamar Advertising came under fire from the Washington Park Neighborhood Association and Scenic America for illegally razing more than 100 buffer trees in the Washington Park neighborhood along Interstate 95. According to ecoRILamar received permission from the city to cut down the trees to allow their billboards to be seen, but said confusion with their contractor resulted in the trees being cleared. The felled trees were on land belonging to the City.

The Washington Park neighborhood has one of the lowest numbers of trees in Providence and the highest rates of asthma. Every lost tree damages the lungs of children and adults. The trees also act as a sound buffer, reducing the constant traffic noise hitting the neighborhood.

“It was a mistake on our part,” said Michael murphy, Managing Director of the Providence office of Lamar Advertising, at ecoRI. “It was a misunderstanding.”

In response, the city of Providence “requested” that Lamar replant the trees.

But that’s not enough in the eyes of Linda Perri, president of the Washington Park Neighborhood Association. She teamed up with Scenic America to start an online petition. “Tell the Ordinances Committee that Lamar cannot be trusted and that the sign code should NOT be changed to allow Lamar to scan his signs.”

As ecoRI points out in its article, it is not enough to replant an equal number of new trees. Young trees do not clean as much air as older, established trees. To restore what was lost, Lamar would need to plant at least 300 trees. And the petition demands exactly that.

The full claims outlined in the petition are as follows:

  • Request compensation. Lamar is expected to plant 300 new trees to lessen the blow to Washington Park’s canopy and the negative impact on residents.
  • Demand that Lamar remove the billboard: A billboard prone to obstruction is simply not worth the cost of trees and vegetation for the quality of life of our residents.
  • Oppose an amendment that will allow static billboards to be converted into digital billboards. Lamar has already pushed the boundaries. How far are they going to go?
  • Demand new laws to prevent such a clearcut from happening. If billboard companies were prohibited from removing vegetation for better visibility, this would not have happened in the first place. Rhode Island is one of many states that allow this practice of tree cutting, and it must stop. Our state and federal leaders must put in place protections for freeway buffer trees.

You can sign the petition here.

But the most effective way to demand environmental justice for the long-suffering neighborhoods around Providence Harbor is to appear in person at the Providence City Council Ordinance Committee hearing and demand that Lamar Advertising’s offer to replace billboards with electronic billboards is permanently closed and the company is held responsible for their “mistakeâ€.

Persons wishing to testify against this ordinance must come to the Providence City Council Chamber on the 3rd floor of Providence Town Hall on Wednesday, November 3, 2021 at 4 p.m.


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