A new North Carolina law that allows the state to override local tree-protection ordinances has resulted in the loss of several hundred trees that covered at least 50 acres near billboards in Charlotte, according to the city's arborist.
How the legislation is implemented is still being determined by the state Department of Transportation. The process involves a public comment period that ends Friday.
Before Senate Bill 83 passed last March, billboard companies were at the mercy of local ordinances if they wanted to cut down trees. Those ordinances varied, with Charlotte having one of the most strict laws governing tree removal.
Now, the North Carolina Department of Transportation has the final say.
“The law specifically states they cannot consider local ordinances," Charlotte arborist Don McSween says. "Whether it’s swim buffers, the protection of our streams, erosion control or the tree ordinance.”
A temporary rules procedure has been in place since March. The DOT’s job is to write the final rules to implement the law. It’s been taking public comments since early August when it held the first of three public meetings.
The Central Piedmont chapter of the Sierra Club, for example, is urging kids to reference the popular Dr. Seuss story, The Lorax, to convince DOT to have strong tree-protection regulations.
Tony Adams of the North Carolina Outdoor Advertising Association says critics are making too big a deal of the change. He says advertisers just want to make sure their signs are visible.
“When you’re competing for tourism dollars, when you’re depending on the traveling public to stop in your community and help maintain those local jobs, why would you want to hamstring our business community in North Carolina and put it at a disadvantage compared to our competing southern states?" Adams asks.
There are roughly 8,000 billboards in North Carolina, according to the DOT. So far, there have been applications to remove some trees around some 600 billboards. 116 of those billboards are in the Charlotte area.