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Billboard bill fuels opposition
Legislation allows cutting of trees
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Billboard legislation going through the Georgia House of Representatives has fueled widespread opposition, including from a group led by a vocal Lake Lanier resident.

The bill calls for many things, but the part drawing ire has to do with tree clear-cutting so that signs can be more visible.

The billboard industry "agreed to the legislation that is currently in place several years ago," said Wilton Rooks, executive director of Scenic Georgia. "Now, they're coming back and trying to modify it to basically take down public trees for their own private gain."

Other groups objecting to the bill include garden clubs, some Keep Georgia Beautiful chapters and the Sierra Club, said Rooks, who also serves as a vice president with the Gainesville-based Lake Lanier Association and has led the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint Stakeholders' executive committee.

"The image of I-75 in South Georgia (approaching Florida) is the image that (bill proponents) would like to see throughout the state," he said. "... And when you get up into North Georgia, you get into more of the tree-lined highways."

Current law allows for billboard companies to remove smaller trees - up to 8 inches in diameter - so signs can be displayed.

Conner Poe, executive director of Outdoor Advertising Association of Georgia, countered by saying that the bill also calls for the industry to pay into a beautification fund for every tree that's removed.

"We're just paying ... to just replace (the tree) somewhere else. That's something that never really gets said (by opponents)," he said. "We're planting younger trees, which actually are putting out more oxygen than older trees."

Also, "a lot of the older and illegal billboards around the state are going down through the initiation of this program," Poe said.

Rep. Tommy Benton, R-Jefferson, is one of the bill's sponsors. Certain provisions, include height limitation, have warmed him to the bill as a whole.

The legislation, among other things, calls for bringing "the billboards down to no (higher) than 75 feet," he said. "That'll get those skyscraper billboards out of the stratosphere."

Also, "there is a pretty stringent obscenity part of the bill," Benton said. "You only have to ride up I-85 past Banks Crossing and you'll understand what I'm talking about."

He added, "I don't think there's going to be a proliferation of billboards. In fact, I think there's going to be a lot of them coming down."