Lawyers for the city of Columbus Tuesday asked the State Supreme Court to block a law allowing billboard companies to clear cut trees obscuring their signs. One of the arguments is over how much money the billboard companies pay taxpayers for the trees.
Thomas Gristina, a lawyer representing Columbus, says the law doesn’t protect the taxpayers.
He says “It gives a sweetheart deal to the billboard owners. It allows them to cut trees in front of billboards and not to pay a fair value to the taxpayers for those trees.”
He says billboard companies pay between 10 and 54 dollars for a pine tree worth 341 dollars.
But David Flint, attorney for the Outdoor Advertising Association, says they aren’t getting the trees from a nursery.
“The state has come up with a statewide formula that is fair. It was approved by the Georgia Forestry Commission. It went before this commission of citizen groups and industry groups and government groups and finally approved.” says Flint.
Flint says the legislature has determined again and again that billboards are in the public interest.
Gristina says the law also doesn’t protect local beautification projects.
“Columbus has spent millions of dollars improving its scenic roadways. And under this statute, there’s no clarity as to whether those beautification projects are protected from cutting. And so many of the trees that have been planted over a more than 20 year period could be cut down by the billboard owners for very little value paid to the taxpayers.”he says.
Gristina argues that there are plenty of places available on the roads that don’t have trees where the companies can put billboards.
Clifton Fay, city attorney for Columbus, says “We think if the legislature is going to draft a statute that pays private interests for certain activities, the statute ought to be very specific. And it’s got to convey a reasonable benefit to taxpayers.”
It may be several months before the state Supreme Court rules on the case.