Welcome to our Newsletter Archive
Please see our blog for updated news and alerts. This page is a part of our history for your reference.
La Crosse Fights LED Digital Billboards!
Customary Maintenance or Gaming the System
US Hwy 41: An Interstate?
A Dairy is considered Industrial?
New Digital LED Billboard by Neighborhood
Wisconsin Barns & Scenery
Small town seeks help to preserve historic Chase Stone Barn
US Hwy 41: A Billboard Gauntlet
Preserving Wisconsin’s Icons: The Barns
Billboards: Then and Now
What is a non-conforming billboard?
Wisconsin Barn Census
Welcome to Eagle River, WI – Really?
Spring 2008 Newsletter (not available)
Wind Turbines & Scenery: Time for Change
Proposed Scenic Byways: State Hwy 60
Billboards or Ego Boards?
CSW Seeks Scenic Beauty Award Nominees
2007 Scenic Beauty Awards
Frequently Asked Questions
Thanks for your Support
Byways or ‘Buyways’
Executive Director’s Report
Billboards Curbed in Michigan
Digital Billboards: Roadside Hazard?
Scenic Awards Presented
Billboard Laws Beautification in La Crosse
Spring 2006 Newsletter (not available)
Fall 2005 Newsletter (not available)
Scenic Byways Program Approved
Outdoor Advertising Companies sue City of Greenfield
The Value of Scenery
NOTE: Historical For Reference Only
The US Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case Reagan Advertising v. City of Austin, Texas on November 10, a case that considers whether billboard restrictions violate first amendment rights. Reagan argued that regulating signs based on whether they are off-premises of the product advertised on them violates the right to free speech. At stake is whether federal and state governments will continue to have the right to regulate outdoor advertising signs, commonly known as billboards, along highways in this country. The justices expressed concerns about the implications of the case on the national landscape, the legacy of the Highway Beautification Act, and the costs of overturning long-standing scenic laws. The outcome is far from certain.
In August, Scenic Wisconsin joined other scenic-oriented state organizations in signing an amicus brief in support of the City of Austin. In October, we issued a strongly-worded bulletin in favor of Austin, to encourage people and organizations in Wisconsin to join the fray against Reagan. Attached to the bulletin was an improved edition of our policy statement “Billboards are not a benefit in Wisconsin”, which states the importance of scenery.
By Charlie Mitchell
Scenic News, November 25, 2021
Supreme court to determine authority of federal and state governments to regulate outdoor advertising
A decision in favor of outdoor advertising companies would result in unlimited clutter of unsightly billboards along Wisconsin’s highways.
The case known as Reagan v. Austin which pits two major outdoor advertising companies, Reagan and Lamar, against the City of Austin, Texas, will be heard by the supreme court on November 10. At issue is whether the federal and state governments will continue to be allowed to regulate off-premises outdoor advertising signs, commonly known as billboards, in this country. If the outdoor advertising companies win, the result will be a proliferation of big signs along our state and federal highways and a serious degradation of the scenery as viewed from the highways.
The outdoor advertising companies are arguing that regulating signs based on whether they are off-premises of the activity advertised on them violates the right to free speech.
In the words of attorney Cooke Kelsey, who works with scenic advocate Scenic America and who has appeared as ”amicus curiae” (friend of the court) in this case: “It is the most important scenic case to reach the court, ever.” If the billboard companies prevail, the damage to scenic assets would be a disaster for tourism and our quality of life.
Billboards don’t exist in harmony with natural scenery like farms, forests, or lakes. They are erected for the sole purpose of increasing revenue to the advertiser and to the billboard company. With the advent of smart phones and dashboard GPS providing information such as names and locations of hotels and all roadside services that an automobile traveler could need, there is no longer a need for billboards.
For a more complete understanding of how unnecessary and detrimental billboards are, read our position statement on our resource page. For the reasons cited, there are eight states in the US that limit or completely prohibit the use of billboards.
Kelsey has assembled a formidable coalition of major organizations and associations which have done pro-scenic “briefs” in support of the City of Austin. The coalition includes several of the very biggest real estate developers in the country, such as Trammel Crow; 22 state governments; many state scenic organizations, including Scenic Wisconsin; the National League of Cities; the US Conference of Mayors; the Chamber of Commerce of the City of Houston; the Municipal Lawyers Association; and the American planning Association, to name a few.
Subduing the outdoor advertisers will be a benefit to everybody. Please do what you can to lend your support to the City of Austin.
By Charlie Mitchell
Scenic News, October 10, 2021
Wisconsin’s Rustic Roads program is the finest in the country
Hazy light peeks through fall colors along Wisconsin Rustic Rod R77 in Sturgeon Bay
Photo by Cassandra Raymond / Courtesy Wisconsin Dept. Transportation
Off County Highway C in Taylor County, south of Timm’s Hill – the highest point in Wisconsin – is a little brown and yellow sign indicating a special road, one of 123 in the state. R1 the sign reads, the state’s very first rustic road.
Rustic Road 1 stretches for five miles between Hwy. 102 and County D north of Rib Lake, through beautiful, forested land and two pretty lakes.
Designated in 1975, the gravel road exemplifies the Wisconsin Dept. of Transportation program whose goal is to preserve lightly traveled roads that have outstanding natural or historical features for the enjoyment of not only motorists but also cyclists and hikers.
The rural roads provide a chance to slow down and truly see the Wisconsin countryside which is not possible from fast-paced state and interstate highways. Ranging in length from 2 to 30 miles, most of the roads connect with major highways on both ends, making them short scenic detours throughout the state. According to Liat Bonneville, WisDot Rustic Road coordinator, other states have similar programs, but none on the scale of Wisconsin’s.
The program was the brainchild of former Racine County Highway Commissioner Earl Skagen who would pass quiet, scenic roads on his way to work. In 1970 he decided that they were worth saving, “for future generations to travel in a peaceful, unhurried setting”. He created the term “rustic road” and said they should have maintenance guidelines to preserve the natural and rustic characteristics.
The program was born as Assembly Bill 658 in December 1973 which defined the process for designating a road and established a state-level Rustic Roads board. It described a set of qualifications for the road, the most important being having outstanding natural features and agricultural vistas. A local municipality must pass a resolution and apply to the Board for designation of a road. The board sends two members to review the proposed road and reports to the Board before it votes on the road.
Excerpts from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article of 3 Oct 2021
Forestry identified as one of nine “policy sectors”
By Charlie Mitchell
Since taking office in 2019, Governor Evers has committed to taking action on the effects of climate change in Wisconsin. The Governor’s Task Force on Climate Change, created in October 2019 with Lieutenant Mandela Barnes as chairman, has recently distributed their Climate Change Report dated December, 2020, with recommendations of actions to “meaningfully mitigate” the negative effects of climate change “for the benefit of Wisconsin communities”.
The 115-page Report cites how the 1degree Centigrade (2degrees Fahrenheit) rise in temperature above the average temperature of the twentieth century is impacting Wisconsin: damage to property by severe storms, damage from flooding, crop failures due to drought and other adverse growing conditions, and elevated incidents of heat strokes and exhaustion.
The Report states that 19 of the warmest years on record have occurred since 2001, and that even if the world meets its current greenhouse gas reduction commitments under the Paris Agreement, the globe is expected to warm 3degrees C by 2100. The increased heat is expected to threaten Wisconsin’s cold-water fisheries, affect the health of native trees and plants, cause the proliferation of pests and infectious diseases, and cause the destruction of beaches and marinas by storm surges.
The Report presents statistics recently published by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources on greenhouse gas emissions. In 2017, the electric power sector produced 33% of the emissions, transportation 24%, agriculture 15%, and industrial 11%. Carbon dioxide accounted for 81% of greenhouse gas emissions and methane 10%. Emissions have declined in Wisconsin by 9% between 2005 and 2017, mostly due to reductions in the electric sector.
Sanctuary Woods in County Grounds Park, Wauwatosa
Photo by Charlie Mitchell
Nine policy sectors are identified and the Report describes recommended “climate solutions” for each of the sectors. The sectors are Climate Justice, Energy, Transportation, Agriculture, Resilient Systems, Economy, Education, Food, and Forestry. Most of these sectors produce greenhouse emissions. Forestry is the only sector that absorbs emissions. Tree leaves take on CO2 in the life-sustaining process of photosynthesis. However, Wisconsin forests and natural lands lost over 25% of their carbon sequestering ability between 2005 and 2017 due to the encroachment of agriculture and the conversion of cropland to urban development.
In the Forestry Sector, there are five priorities listed for attention: forest conservation, reforestation in rural areas, tree planting in urban areas, climate-focused forest management, and support of wood-product utilization.
To accomplish conservation, also described as “keeping forests as forests”, some of the strategies recommended are: tax forested land on its value in its current use rather than its highest/best use, provide tax and other incentives to landowners who donate forested land to conservation easements, and explore the possibility of a family forest carbon credit program for small woodland owners.
All of these recommendations require some new state legislation and funding. There are no cost estimates because the Report did not go into that depth.
In the realm of reforestation, the main ideas are to implement a rural tree-planting campaign, fund private owner assistance for tree-planting, and purchase and reforest open lands that were formerly forested. Reforestation could “offset” an estimated 5 million tons of CO2 per year.
Regarding tree-planting in urban areas, develop and implement a campaign to plant more shade trees, and provide assistance to communities that are interested in participating in carbon credit programs. Increased forest canopy in cities has the potential to sequester and store an additional 0.3 tons of carbon a year, plus provide additional benefits such as reducing temperatures in the city, reducing storm-water run-off, and increasing air quality. The presence of trees in a city also reduces crime rates and increases property values, too. Trees reduce energy demands because they provide cooling by the shade that they give and by transpiration of water vapor.
To implement climate-focused forest management, define carbon as a forest product through state policy, provide funding sources for planting understories in forest stands that are not fully filled in, and establish funding to purchase land and maintain it as a working forest.
To support wood products utilization, develop a campaign on the benefits of using Wisconsin wood products, invest in research and commercialization of “mass-timber” and cross-laminated lumber, and incentivize the use of renewable fuels (woody biomass) for space heating, and industrial process heat. Wood is extremely effective for long-term carbon storage. Buildings made from wood can store carbon that otherwise would return to the atmosphere when trees die and decompose on the forest floor.
Of course, expanding and nurturing our forests has the well-known additional benefits of an increase in beautiful scenery and fresh air, and the enjoyment of it.
For more information and to see the complete report, go to www.climatechange.wi.gov.
March 15, 2021
By Chelsea Lewis, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Three Wisconsin roads have received new National Scenic Byway designations from the Federal Highway Administration, confirming them as some of the state’s best places for scenic drives.
The Wisconsin Lake Superior Scenic Byway and Door County Coastal Byway have both been declared National Scenic Byways, while Wisconsin’s Great River Road – already a National Scenic Byway – has been declared an All American Road.
Wisconsin’s 250-mile segment of Great River Road follows Highway 35 from Prescott to Kieler along the Mississippi River through the western part of the state. The road follows the river for its entire 3,000 mile course from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico. In 2012, readers of Huffington Post voted it “America’s prettiest drive.”
A boost for tourism
“More attention means more visitors to the states that border the mighty Mississippi,” Anne Lewis, chair of the Mississippi River Parkway Commission, said in a press release. “More travelers bring more money spent in stores, restaurants, hotels and attractions, an economic boost that is vital to the communities along the Great River Road.”
Mississippi River The Great River Road winds around Maiden Rock Bluff along Lake Pepin on the Mississippi River
Photo by Chelsey Lewis / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
To be designated an All American Road, a route must be “considered a destination unto itself” and “provide such an exceptional driving experience for travelers that they would make a drive along the highway a primary reason for their trip,” according to the National Scenic Byways Program. In addition, the road must have two of six “intrinsic qualities” – scenic, natural, historic, cultural, archeological, and recreational – with features that “best represent the nation.”
National Scenic Byways must have one of those qualities and be regionally significant.
Wisconsin’s 70-mile Lake Superior Scenic Byway follows Highway 13 through the Bayfield peninsula from Barksdale to Cloverland, offering views of the greatest of the Great Lakes.
The 66-mile Door County Coastal Byway loops around the Door County peninsula along Highway 57 from Sturgeon Bay to Northport and back down Highway 42 to its starting point.
The three routes are Wisconsin’s only designated National Scenic Byways, but the Badger State is home to two other state scenic byways: the Lower Wisconsin River Road, a charming route along highway 60 from Lodi to Prairie du Chien; and the forested Nicolet- Wolf River Scenic Byway along Highways 55, 32, 70 and 52 in the northeast part of the state.
According to recent bulletins from Scenic America, these are some of the first new designations of National Scenic Byways since 2009, made possible by new funding in environmental legislation enacted by the federal government during 2020, following the passage of the Reviving America’s Scenic Byways Act in September, 2019.
In August 2020, President Trump signed the Great American Outdoors Act into law. This was a victory for conservationists because it provides full and permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund which supports the creation and maintenance of national parks, national wildlife refuges, national forests, state parks, and more.
The National Scenic Byways Program was established in 1991, and besides bringing scenic conservation and environmental benefits, it has become a critical part of America’s travel and tourism industry.
Reprinted from an article that appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on February 28, 2021
The year 2020 has been another active year for Citizens for a Scenic Wisconsin, and we continue to defend and advance our scenic principles.
We have brought on two new highly motivated and qualified board members.
Jay Salinas of Reedsburg is experienced in promoting agricultural tourism, an activity that depends on attractive rural scenery and increases respect for that scenery. Jay is director of the Wormfarm Institute, an organization working to integrate art, agriculture and ecology for improved agricultural life-style. Jay organized this year’s Farm Art DTour, an event with exhibits of sculptures and sales of local delicacies along a 60-mile figure-eight of scenic country roads near Reedsburg that took place Sep 26-Oct 4 and attracted 22,000 people.
Frank Shansky of St.Francis has been deeply involved with the citizens’ drive in recent years to save Sanctuary Woods on the Milwaukee County Grounds in Wauwatosa, an old growth hardwood forest. He has spoken repeatedly before the common Council in Wauwatosa and the Milwaukee County Board to conserve the Woods by making it part of recently created County Grounds Park. Now that the Woods it is part of the park, he continues in an activist, leadership role to make sure that elected officials respect zoning that prevents commercial building adjacent to the Woods and to the nearby Monarch Trail butterfly habitat.
A cooperative relationship has been established with the Wormfarm Institute.
A new strategic relationship has been established between the Wormfarm Institute (described above) headquartered in Reedsburg, Wisconsin, whereby both organizations cooperate to support and advance initiatives, such as agricultural tourism, that encourage conservation of scenery.
Scenic Wisconsin leadership is engaged in re-building at Scenic America.
In discussions with Scenic America President Mark Falzone and new Progarm Director Nathan O’Neill at the September Affiliates meeting, President Gary Goyke and Secretary Charlie Mitchell reported on our activities and presented the History of Citizens for a Scenic Wisconsin and a report of States with Good Billboard Regulation. Scenic America will make the History available in their library, and the report will be the basis for a bulletin intended to support strengthening billboard laws.
We have become active in support for Rustic Roads in Wisconsin.
Scenic Wisconsin was invited by the Wisconsin Dept. of Transportation to participate in the stewardship of the Rustic Roads program. Gary will be consulting with the Rustic Roads board about improved signage and other upgrades, and will advocate for funding in the WisDoT budget in the upcoming state legislative session. Rustic Roads are scenic rural back roads designated and managed by the WisDoT to keep them scenic.
We advocated for the Billboard Reform Bill in the state legislature.
Known as the Billboard Reform Act, the bill was intended to prohibit new off-premises advertising signs known as billboards along state and federal highways. Scenic Wisconsin officers and board members had been instrumental in drafting this bill sponsored by Representative Amanda Stuck of Appleton. While the bill stalled in the Assembly Transportation Committee, it had the effect of blunting advances by the aggressive Outdoor Advertising industry.
The board of directors have been very active personally informing legislators and candidates, making them aware of our scenic values, and will remain steadfast in pressing for billboard reform in the upcoming legislative session.
It takes financial support to continue to defend scenery against self-serving actions of the well-funded outdoor advertising industry. Please contribute as much as you are willing and able to, however much fits into your budget. Return the slip provided here with your check or credit card number in the enclosed envelope.
Thank you and happy holidays.
Gary Goyke, President
Charlie Mitchell, Founder
P.S: The History of Citizens for Scenic Wisconsin and the Report of States with Good Billboard Regulation are exceptional works authored by Charlie that will not only aid our efforts, but influence the national scenic movement. The History is an example and the Report is a reference for other state scenic organizations. Nice job, Charlie! Gary
By Charlie Mitchell
The 60-mile drive in Sauk County known as Farm Art DTour provided thousands of “Dtourists” with an opportunity to view and enjoy the charming, scenic farmland in pleasant early fall weather. Organized and presented by the Wormfarm Institute (headquartered in Reedsburg) the event encompassed the towns of Plain and Sauk Prairie on a figure-eight route of country roads through an artwork of fields and farms. Along the way were large-scale sculptures and local food markets, all of it punctuated by educational field notes and roadside poetry.
Scenic overlook along Farm Art Dtour. Photo: Wormfarm Institute
The Wormfarm Institute is an organization dedicated to integrating art, agriculture and ecology for the betterment of the agricultural life-style. In the words of their website, their stated mission is “to integrate culture and agriculture”, to bring together farming, conservation, and the arts to kindle cultural expression and enhance the economy of the region.
Jay Salinas, artist and farmer, is Wormfarm co-founder, and with his partner Donna, they organize the DTour, with the help of a small dedicated staff and dozens of volunteers and collaborators. Jay says, “My reward is witnessing the range of relationships that develop between artists, farmers, landowners and business owners during the event.”
One tourist, Gary Goyke of Maple Grove, said that the tour was “excellent” and that he really enjoyed it.
Now a biennial in its eighth year, this year’s event took place Sep 26 to Oct 4 and drew over 20,000 people. Although scheduled well before the coronavirus pandemic began, the event was planned to include a comprehensive safety protocol of social distancing, using the motto Stay One Cow Apart.
It was a celebration of the agricultural lifestyle of Wisconsin, the best of “agritourism”: reaching out to urban residents, providing education to all and building respect for Wisconsin’s scenic heritage.
October 15, 2020
Roadsides can provide vital sanctuaries for pollinators and other wildlife.
State highway departments are beginning to plant native species for habitat, increasing the esthetic attractiveness in the process, thanks in large part to the Habitat Highways initiative by the World Wildlife Federation.
Excerpts below from WWF Magazine April/May 2016
An Interstate highway may seem to be an unlikely place to create a butterfly habitat, but across the country roadside rights-of-way are attracting the attention of biologists and conservationists for their potential to foster monarchs and other kinds of wildlife. Roadsides can support a surprising variety of pollinators, including bees, butterflies, moths and other insects. Long-distance migratory birds such as the ruby-throated hummingbird can use roadsides as pit stops for resting and feeding. Small mammals thrive on the edges of highways.
Flowers bloom in roadside habitat. Photo: World Wildlife Federation
Starting not far from the shore of Lake Superior, Interstate 35 heads south for more than 1500 miles through fields of corn and soybeans and the remnants of midwest prairie until it reaches the Texas chaparral country along the Rio Grande river. It’s an artery of speeding motor vehicle traffic, but to biologists like Michael Gale of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, this Interstate could one day become the “monarch highway”.
“It overlaps perfectly with the central flyway of migrating eastern monarch butterflies” says Gale, a participant in a multi-agency federal plan to increase the numbers of that beloved but beleaguered butterfly. During the past two decades, the population of monarchs in Mexico for the winter has plummeted 80 to 90%, primarily as a result of habitat loss in the United States.
In the past, US roadways have been anything but wildlife friendly, planted with exotic grasses like fescue, excessively mown and heavily sprayed with herbicide. In recent years, however, several state transportation departments – including those in Iowa, Indiana, Florida and Nebraska – have begun changing their right-of-way management practices. In December 2015, President Obama signed the “Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act” which, among many measures ,encourages states to plant milkweed and other native plants along highways for pollinators to feed on. And in 2016, the Federal Highway Administration released new “best management practices” that provide guidance to transportation authorities about how to develop wildlife habitat along rights-of-way.
For more information, Habitat Highways World Wildlife Federation.
July 1 2020
The Billboard Reform Act was introduced into the state legislature, intended to stop construction of any more billboards along major highways in Wisconsin.
Scenic Wisconsin officers and board members were instrumental in drafting a bill sponsored by Representative Amanda Stuck of Appleton. The new bill was announced by Rep. Stuck as the Billboard Reform Act in a press conference in July. It is Assembly Bill 421 and is assigned to the Assembly Transportation Committee. The Billboard Reform Act would prohibit new off-premises advertising signs known as billboards along state and federal highways. No billboards would come down right away, but it would stop new assaults on our scenery.
The Act would also strengthen regulation of existing billboards, many of them not conforming to present laws, in the spirit of the 1965 Federal Highway Beautification Act. And it would end the removal of trees and vegetation solely for billboard visibility.
The Scenic Wisconsin Leadership Conference was held October 4 with prominent people advancing scenic values to a receptive audience.
Interesting new light was shed on the importance of a scenic environment at a conference of scenery-minded people at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Wauwatosa on October 4th. At the day-long conference produced by Citizens for a Scenic Wisconsin, prominent state and local government and business leaders spoke to an audience of about 50 attentive people on a range of topics relevant to protecting and enjoying the scenic assets of Wisconsin.
Department of Tourism Deputy Secretary Anne Sayers told of new efforts to promote the unique and varied charm of Wisconsin. UW Extension Professor Chuck Law talked about their program to preserve iconic old barns by re-use, with examples given by Steve Nagy, wedding-barn owner. Rep. Stuck said that there is a row of billboards so close together along Hwy. 41 that you can’t see the real Appleton behind them. Jim Zellmer of Amuz pitched their new travel-planning apps as making billboards for directions to destinations unnecessary. Mark Falzone, President of Scenic America, provided a national perspective and he cited their efforts to control billboards along highways. Scenic Wisconsin President Gary Goyke told about the Billboard Reform Act.
A new cooperative relationship is being established with Scenic America which will strengthen our ability to accomplish our scenic mission.
A new strategic plan whereby Scenic America will make organizational techniques and fund-raising expertise available to Scenic Wisconsin (and other state Scenics) was announced by Scenic America President Mark Falzone at the October 4 Scenic Wisconsin board meeting.
The plan envisions a template for sustaining an informative and interesting web site, the most efficient computer programs for all business records, and effective research and proposals to charitable foundations. Initiating the plan will be the main subject of the January 11, 2020, board meeting. Scenic Wisconsin leadership is engaged in the tough job of trying to get the Billboard Reform Act passed in the state legislature, while also advancing our other priorities such as historic barn preservation and Scenic Byways.
It takes financial support to carry on. Please contribute as much as you are willing and able to, however much fits into your budget. You may use the form provided here.
Thank you and happy holidays.
Gary Goyke, President Charlie Mitchell, Founder
Reprinted Op Ed by Charlie Mitchell which appeared on November 5, 2019 in the Urban Milwaukee
They degrade Wisconsin scenery and are unnecessary in digital world.
New light was shed on the effects of billboards in our society at a conference of scenery-minded people at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Wauwatosa on October 4th. At the day-long conference produced by Citizens for a Scenic Wisconsin, prominent community leaders spoke to an audience of about 50 attentive people on a range of topics relevant to protecting and enjoying the scenic assets of Wisconsin.
Department of Tourism Deputy Secretary Anne Sayers told of new efforts to promote the unique and varied charm of Wisconsin. State Treasurer Sarah Godlewski spoke of the careful stewardship of large tracts of forest by the Commissioners of Public Lands. UW Extension Professor Chuck Law talked about their program to preserve iconic old barns by re-use, with examples given by Steve Nagy, wedding-barn owner. Jim Zellmer, President of Amuz, pitched their new travel-planning apps as making billboards for directions to destinations unnecessary. Mark Falzone, President of Scenic America, provided a national perspective and he cited their efforts to control billboards along highways. Scenic Wisconsin President Gary Goyke also talked about billboard control and he told about the Billboard Reform Act (SB21) currently in the state legislature.
State Representative Amanda Stuck of Appleton, author of the Billboard Reform Act, said that there is a row of billboards so close together along Hwy. 41 that you can’t see the real Appleton behind them. And billboards are costly to remove when they are in the way of a highway widening project — billboard owners demand high prices which become part of the burden on taxpayers.
These speakers made it very clear how important the visual environment is – and it was also obvious that billboards are detrimental to it.
The Billboard Reform Act (AB 421) would prohibit new off-premises advertising signs known as billboards along state and federal highways. No existing billboards would come down, but it would stop new assaults on our scenery.
The Act would also strengthen regulation of existing billboards, in the spirit of the 1965 Federal Highway Beautification Act. And it would end the cutting of trees and vegetation solely for billboard visibility.
To understand the value of this bill, you need to consider recent developments and new realities of the age that we live in.
Technology has rendered roadside billboards practically irrelevant to the traveling public. Smart phones and dashboard GPS are in widespread use. These devices provide better and more complete information than any billboard could, including a comprehensive directory of nearby services and precise directions to get you there.
The idea that billboards are necessary to doing business was never entirely valid. Many cities in this state simply don’t allow billboards because they are a nuisance. Seven states in the U.S. now limit or prohibit the use of billboards. Of these, four states (including Maine and Vermont) ban billboards entirely and Michigan has a cap on the number of billboards. European countries such as England, France and Germany allow no billboards. And there is no evidence that people in states that have no billboards aren’t getting all the goods and services that they need.
Trees and vegetation provide numerous public and private benefits besides scenic beauty, such as noise reduction, light screening and erosion control. Plus they absorb carbon dioxide.
The Billboard Reform Act is an opportunity to reduce excessive advertising while stopping the degradation of Wisconsin scenery.
Charlie Mitchell is a life-long conservationist and preservationist. He is a member of the Wauwatosa Historic Preservation Commission, the board of directors of Citizens for a Scenic Wisconsin and of Partners in Forestry. He attended most of the meetings about the county grounds and spoke at many of them.
Related Legislation: 2019 Assembly Bill 421
November 11, 2019
An impressive roster of community leaders spoke to an attentive audience in Wauwatosa, October fourth, about a range of topics relevant to protecting and enjoying the scenic assets of Wisconsin. The Scenic Wisconsin Leadership Conference, produced by non-profit Citizens for a Scenic Wisconsin, took place at the Crowne Plaza Hotel. The day-long program started with Milwaukee County Parks in the morning, and progressed through tourism and recreation in the state, a national perspective on scenic conservation, control of billboards along highways and preservation of iconic historical barns. Charlie Mitchell, founder of CSW and member of the Wauwatosa Historic Preservation Commission, was presented with a Lifetime Service Award by CSW.
Chairman of the Milwaukee County Parks Committee, Jason Haas, recounted that the county parks were originally started in the late 1800s for the benefit of the city-dwelling working man in the industrial revolution. Today Milwaukee County has the most parks in Wisconsin, with well-designed golf courses that compete with the best privately owned public courses. Whitnall Park not only has the wonderful Boerner Botanical Gardens but also wonderful outdoor entertainment in the warmer months.
Anne Sayers, Deputy Secretary of the State of Wisconsin Department of Tourism, spoke about the reorganization and renewed energy in the Department. Her years of work for The Nature Conservancy give her an understanding of the importance of a healthy natural environment, now known to be essential to well-being, both physical and mental. With the establishment of the Office of Outdoor Recreation, the Department is ready to compete with other states for tourists, even with a smaller budget than most states, by emphasizing the unique and varied charm of Wisconsin.
In regard to improving charm and beauty, Paul Rusk of the Dane County Board of Supervisors recounted the arduous process of removing three giant billboards near the Dane County Airport in 2018. The land had been re-zoned as conservancy, and an order to remove the billboards was issued. The billboard company protested with a drawn-out lawsuit which included accusations of improper procedures by the board, but the court upheld removal. Approval by the public was expressed in a letter to the editor of the Capitol Times.
Gary Goyke, President of Citizens for a Scenic Wisconsin, reported on the introduction of a piece of legislation known as the Billboard Reform Act into the state legislature. The Act (Assembly Bill 421), authored by Rep. Amanda Stuck of Appleton, would prevent construction of any more billboards along major highways and has been assigned to the Assembly Transportation Committee. To have a chance at passage, significant public support will be necessary. Gary urged everybody to write or email their state senator and representative, or for convenience go to www.scenic.org/BillboardReformAct .
How you can make excellent travel and vacation plans on your smart phone was demonstrated by Jim Zellmer, president of Amuz Travel Apps. Amuz provides an app that lets you discover little-known places of interest and gives you detailed information about them, along with perfect road maps and driving directions.
Preparatory to presenting the award to Charlie Mitchell, former councilman Dennis McBride spoke of Mitchell’s reliable work toward preserving historic properties and his dedication to saving the woods on the County Grounds. Mayor Kathy Ehley concurred, reading a statement and presenting the award.
Mitchell accepted the award graciously, referring to a dedicated board of directors and a hard-working president Gary Goyke for making CSW a success. He said that now the important thing is to support the Billboard Reform Act, and join the other seven states which ban or limit billboards along highways. There is no evidence that people in states that have no billboards aren’t getting all the goods and services that they need, he said.
Amanda Stuck stood before the audience and said that there is a row of billboards so close together along Hwy. 41 that you can’t see the real Appleton behind them. This has become an issue of concern among voters in The Appleton area. And billboards are costly to remove when they are in the way of a highway widening project because billboard owners demand high prices. This adds to the cost of highway projects that taxpayers pay for.
In his keynote speech, Mark Falzone, President of Scenic America, characterized Scenic America as the only nation-wide organization dedicated solely to the visual environment and highway beautification. He said they are committed to the principals stated by President Lyndon Johnson in 1965 when he signed the federal Highway Beautification Act, an act that Ladybird Johnson is famous for promoting. Mark stated the five major objectives of Scenic America, enlarging on each: Improving Community Character, Honoring Parks and Open Spaces, Respecting Byways and Gateways, Removing Overhead Wires, and Promoting Beautiful Highways. Mark touted the recent re-instatement of the National Scenic Byways Act as a win by Scenic America.
Chuck Law, professor at UW Extension Madison and director of the Barns Preservation Program, said that it has been difficult saving historic old barns because of the prohibitive expense and difficulty finding practical re-uses for them. But he hates the thought of Wisconsin landscapes without the traditional familiar barns. UW Extension has identified a set of publications that are instructive in maintaining old barns and helps stage technical information “workshops”. He said real estate sales ads are now starting to cite a barn on a property as a desirable asset.
Steve Nagy, owner of “wedding barns” has made a successful career of restoring barns so they can be used for social events. Having grown up in Hungary, he is instilled with the European principal that you don’t tear down venerable old buildings.
Advance registrations totaled 49 persons. The conference room was full for the keynote presentation by Falzone at lunch.
For your reference, a copy of our final agenda may be downloaded here (.pdf).
October 8, 2019
Meeting will take place October 4 in Wauwatosa
The following brief announcement which is being publicized to attract attendees gives a good description of the substance and intent of the Conference. President Gary Goyke created the program and agenda and enlisted respected expert speakers.
Friday, October 4, at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Wauwatosa
Understand why scenic beauty is good for economic development, quality of life, recreation and tourism. Hear from experienced and respected speakers in business, government, tourism and the environment about how to take steps toward protecting and enhancing the visual environment in your community. Topics include establishing green spaces in cities, saving iconic historic barns by re-use and reducing billboard clutter along highways.
Hosted by Citizens for a Scenic Wisconsin.
August 16, 2019
A brand-new bill called the Billboard Reform Act has been announced in the state legislature in Madison by Representative Amanda Stuck of Appleton.
This Act calls for ending the proliferation of billboards (giant adverting signs) along highways, strict supervision and eventual removal of “non-conforming” billboards, and no more destruction of trees near billboards.
For additional information, read the articles:
1. The Announcement of the Billboard Reform Act was made in a press conference in Appleton on July 27.
2. The Position Statement from Citizens for a Scenic Wisconsin cites the main provisions of the bill and states the main reasons for and benefits of the Act.
3. The Analysis of the Act by the State of Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau summaries and explains all the provisions of the Act.
Please send a message to your state Representative and state Senator and ask them to support the Act (LRB 2251) by co-signing and becoming a sponsor of the Act. To be sure who your state representative and senator are, and to get their email addresses, go to the State of Wisconsin website legis.wisconsin.gov and follow the prompts. The deadline for co-sponsoring is August 15, so you need to act now.
August 4, 2019
Press Conference with State Rep. Amanda Stuck
Photo: Rep. Amanda Stuck announced the Billboard Reform Act in Appleton. Charlie Mitchell made a supportive statement on behalf of Citizens for a Scenic Wisconsin. Looking on is Ed Kleckner, a Calumet County supervisor..
A small group of interested persons gathered as state Rep. Amanda Stuck of Appleton approached the grassy strip along an edge of the parking lot at Houdini’s Escape Gastropub on Oneida Street in Appleton. On a six foot high wooden fence which stretched along the back edge of the grass was a five-by-six-foot poster with a patchwork of photos of Wisconsin fields, forests and barns: the site of the Press Conference. A cameraman/reporter from Channel 5 TV in Green Bay arrived about 11:00am.
Rep. Stuck made a statement about her new bill (2019 LRB2251) which she is calling the Billboard Reform Act. She said that non-conforming billboards are an unsightly and expensive problem across Wisconsin. She referred to the principles of the federal Highway Beautification Act of 1965 in controlling billboards and she stated the importance of the special Wisconsin scenery which people enjoy and which is so important to tourism. She said the bill repeals the changes made to state law in recent years which favor billboard companies at the expense of taxpayers.
Then Charlie Mitchell spoke in support of the bill on behalf of Citizens for a Scenic Wisconsin. Charlie introduced himself as a businessman who, travelling by car on the state’s highways, noticed an increase in roadside billboards causing a degradation of the landscape. Charlie said that the bill will be effective in improving Wisconsin scenery because it prohibits new billboards going up and strengthens the regulation of non-conforming billboards such that they will eventually be taken down. He said that not allowing trees to be cut down to improve views of billboards is also a benefit.
Charlie cited several reasons and justifications for this Act. Smart phones and GPS are now much more effective than billboards in providing information to the traveler on the highway. The idea that billboards are necessary to doing business was never entirely valid – seven other states have billboard bans or restrictions, and many Wisconsin cities limit or prohibit billboards s a beautification measure. It costs the DoT millions of taxpayer dollars to remove billboards for highway widening.
The story of the Billboard Reform Act led the CBS WFRV-TV Channel 5 news broadcasts at 6: and 10:00pm. The story also aired on WHBV radio in Appleton four times in the afternoon.
July 27, 2019
Study says trees will help fight global warming
WASHINGTON – The most effective way to fight global warming is to plant lots of trees, a study says. A trillion of them, maybe more.
And there’s enough room for them, Swiss scientists say. Even with existing cities and farmland, there’s enough room for new trees to cover 3.5 million square miles. That area is roughly the size of the United States.
The study calculated that over the decades, those new trees could absorb nearly 830 billion tons of heat – trapping carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. That’s about as much pollution as humans have spewed in the last 25 years.
Much of that benefit will come quickly because trees remove more carbon from the atmosphere when they are young, the study authors said. The potential for removing the most carbon is in the tropics.
“This is by far – by thousands of times – the cheapest climate change solution” and the most effective, said study co-author Thomas Crowther, a climate change ecologist at the Swiss Federal Institute of technology in Zurich.
Six nations with the most room for tree are Russia, United States, Canada, Australia, Brazil and China.
Before his research, Crowther figured that there were more effective ways to fight climate change besides cutting emissions, such as people switching from meat-eating to vegetarian. But, he said tree planting is far more effective because trees take so much carbon dioxide out of the air.
Thomas Lovejoy, a George Mason University conservation biologist who wasn’t part of the study, called it “a good-news story” because planting trees would also help stem the loss of biodiversity.
Planting trees is not a substitute for weaning the world off burning oil, coal and gas, the chief cause of global warming, Crowther emphasized. “None of this works without emissions cuts, he said.
Nor is it easy or realistic to think that the world will go on a tree-planting binge, although many groups have started, Crowther said.
The researchers used Google Earth to see what areas could support more trees, while leaving room for people and crops. Lead author Jean-Francois Bastin estimated that there is space for at least 1 trillion trees, but it could be 1.5 trillion.
That’s on top of three trillion trees that are now on Earth already, according to earlier Crowther research.
The study’s calculations make sense, said Stanford University environmental scientist Chris Field, who wasn’t part of the study. But the question of whether it is actually feasible to restore this much forest is much more difficult,” Field said in an email.
Seth Borenstein, Associated Press, July 6 2019
Clean energy or undisturbed vistas?
Cindy Blanc and husband Peter Minucci took up residence on 5 acres in the south-central Wisconsin countryside for the serenity and scenic views. “This is the best place to watch stars because there’s no light out here,” she said. “Now we’ll have flashing lights.”
Blanc, 57, was referring to a plan for 24 wind turbines, nearly 500 feet tall, including one that would be 1500 feet from the couple’s home in the town of Jefferson, a rural farming community of 1200 people.
On a February afternoon, Blanc and Minucci, 61, drive along a country road to a neighbor’s house to hand out yellow posters with the image of a wind turbine with a red slash mark across it. Protest signs already dot yards throughout the town. Blanc learned about the plans for the wind project in October when she got a notice from EDF Renewables in the mail. EDF’s 65-mefawatt Sugar River Wind Project would spread over 5870 acres. The project would bring in more than $250,000 in in tax revenue annually, according to the company. It would provide electric power to 20,000 homes.
Wind currently provides less than 3% of Wisconsin’s electric power, but the Sugar River project is indicative of a renewed interest among wind developers, according to Michael Vickerman, policy director of pro-renewables Renew Wisconsin. Renew Wisconsin believes wind power is a solution to climate change because it helps reduce carbon emissions, and in some cases wind can produce electricity more cheaply than coal-fired power plants.
But people who reside near power sites often see some negatives, and a fight is playing out in Wisconsin and elsewhere between residents and renewable energy developers.
After receiving the notice, Blanc organized her neighbors to rally against the turbines. Under state law, projects are automatically approved after 90 days unless the local municipality passes a wind ordinance to specify conditions for approval, so the situation felt urgent. Blanc says she is not anti-wind, she just doesn’t think turbines should be near houses. She is afraid her property’s value will fall. “Who is going to want to buy it and live in the shadow of giant, industrial wind?” she asked. “We’re musicians with no pension. This five acres and this old farmhouse is what we worked our entire lives for.”
In February, the Jefferson Town board considered a wind ordinance after months of public pressure. More than 70 local residents packed the hall and 10 people spoke against the project. Ultimately, the board rejected the ordinance, to shouts and jeers from the audience.
In interviews before the meeting, some residents said they have heard that some people living near turbines have suffered adverse health effects from the flashing shadows and low frequency noise: headaches, nausea and loss of sleep. Local farmer Micah Barr who lives about three-fourths of a mile from a wind turbine, said at the meeting that he gets headaches which vanish when he goes indoors. However, the Word Health Organization has very little evidence of adverse health effects.
Linda Kundert said in an interview after the meeting “We never thought of this as an industrial area, but the turbines kind of make it that.”
According to Vickerman, lease payments for hosting a turbine are in the range of $5,000 to 7,000 a year. Jim Bender, one of the few willing to speak in favor of the project, said that it is an “opportunity” and that people can benefit from clean wind energy.
The Green County Board on March 12 passed a wind ordinance and the county zoning department plans to review the project for approval.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, April 21, 2019 (Abridged)
Action by Common Council is result of citizen protests. Will it be enough to save Sanctuary Woods?
Photo and Article by Charlie Mitchell
At their Dec 18 meeting, the Wauwatosa Common Council approved a long-delayed and greatly-revised Life Sciences District Master Plan for incorporation into the City of Wauwatosa Comprehensive Plan. The District includes the County Grounds which has a remnant of old-growth forest, a grove of majestic white oaks, on the 58-acre tract which has become known as Sanctuary Woods. Now included in the Plan is a provision that the Woods be re-zoned as a Conservation District. Revisions adding protection for the Woods were made by City staff working with County Grounds Coalition representatives as recently as the week before the meeting. Alderman Jason Wilke’s amendment at the meeting strengthened those protections.
Sanctuary Woods is a refreshing natural area cherished by many Wauwatosa residents, especially dog-walkers. Northeast Quadrant of the County Grounds, North of the Ronald McDonald House, it borders County Grounds Park to the north, a perfect neighbor. The Woods is the last piece of the Grounds which remains undisturbed by development.
The Life Sciences District (LSD) plan became controversial soon after it was introduced in early 2017 because, while it used language that is respectful of the natural environment in the District, it was obviously a blueprint for extensive development with high-rise residential and commercial buildings. The plan was written for City administrators by consultants with backgrounds in real estate development and construction.
The LSD plan is the latest in a history of gradual development of the County Grounds which continued essentially undeterred by periodic public protests. In the 1960s, the Grounds comprised about 1000 acres north and south of Watertown Plank Road roughly from Harwood Avenue near the village west to about Highway 100. It was largely fields and woods. Then the “county institutions” were not much more than County Hospital and a few medical and social service buildings in a park-like setting south of Watertown Plank Road. A few handsome old County buildings survived in the fields and trees north of Watertown Plank.
By 2016, the Milwaukee Regional Medical Center had grown to be a dense agglomeration of large buildings, most of them clad in plain glass, some of them 6 stories tall – a mini-city of hospitals, office buildings and parking structures, and stop lights. West of I94, the Research Park was nearly full with massive business buildings. North of Watertown Plank, there was Discovery Parkway, on a right of way gouged deeply into the sloping terrain where there used to be a savanna of oak and maple, and cliché modern buildings were sprouting along it.
When driving west out of Wauwatosa on Watertown Plank years ago you enjoyed the drive and felt good almost as if you were on a scenic route. Now you feel glad when you get through without a traffic delay.
So when the LSD plan became public, with its proposals for extensive additional development and urbanization described in the latest developer’s jargon such as “mixed-use”, and even though it had beautiful architectural renderings, it stimulated a reaction from the public which bordered on revolt.
Public meetings and hearings draw large crowds
The plan was first made public by the BizTimes which had obtained a draft of it and reported on Dec 19, 2016: ”Wauwatosa officials have been meeting with a team from Milwaukee-based engineering firm GRAEF for more than a year to develop a master plan for the area around I94 and Watertown Plank Road.” “The robust plan . . . envisions Watertown Plank Road . . . becoming a central business corridor connecting to Wauwatosa’s village area.” “The plan includes more density in the form of retail, restaurants and housing . . . allow for 6,500 housing units, 250,000 square feet office space and 70,000 square feet of retail. The estimated annual tax revenue generated by this additional development would be $40 to 50 million.
The citizenry was further informed about the County Grounds by an article by Eddee Daniel in Milwaukee Magazine Jan 09, 2017 entitled “Wauwatosa Master Plan Would Bulldoze Last Corner of County Grounds”. The subtitle read: “Must ‘Sanctuary Woods’ be sacrificed for retail and residential development?” Wonderful photographs depicted the beauty of the Woods.
The ensuing public meetings held by the City of Wauwatosa drew overflow crowds, the first two at city hall, Jan 17 and Feb 7. On March 11, Grassroots Wauwatosa staged a public forum on the future of the County Grounds featuring leaders of local environmental groups as speakers: Jim Price, Monarch Trail; Diane Dagelen, Sierra Club; Cheryl Nenn, Milwaukee Riverkeeper; Nancy Welch, alderperson; and Barb Agnew, Monarch Trail. It drew about 200 people. A third City-hosted meeting took place in the Muellner building in Hart Park on April 6, 2017, and drew about 300 people, practically all of whom spoke in opposition to the LSD plan. They told their reasons for conserving the woods: natural beauty, peace and quiet, wildlife habitat, historic preservation and increasing the market values of the properties near it.
In the continuing approval process, a series of public hearings were held at city hall by the responsible committees. People turned out in great numbers to those hearings to question the plan – the largest steady turnout of people that anybody could remember. Credit the County Grounds Coalition with its well-timed and informative messages written by chairman Peter Abbott.
On May 9, 2017, after a recommendation by the Community Affairs Committee, the Common Council voted to ask the County to re-zone the wooded County-owned land as conservancy. On May 25, Milwaukee County responded by passing a resolution in support of making the wooded area a park. In September, a zoning application was received by the City, but it was fraught with exclusions of environmental land and gerrymandering of commercial land to allow for possible development in the area to the west of the Woods where the vacant Food Services building exists.
On Oct 12, 2017, the Woods received national recognition when the Cultural Landscape Foundation included it on their annual list of threatened landscapes. It lent credibility to local conservation efforts.
Dissatisfied with the re-zoning request by the County and buoyed by the Landscape recognition, a large number of Wauwatosa residents rallied and filled the chamber of the County Parks Commission’s Oct 24 meeting in the Courthouse in Milwaukee to ask that the County re-write the re-zoning application.
After months of uncertainty, on June 20, 2018, Alderman Matt Stippich issued a request to the Community Affairs committee to modify the LSD plan to call for zoning the wooded County-owned land as a Conservation District with the Sanctuary Woods area clearly defined on a map in the plan document for the first time. It passed, to applause by the audience, in their Oct 26 meeting. On Oct 8, the Plan Commission followed suit.
On Dec 4, the Common Council held another public hearing on the LSD plan. Again the subject drew a crowd that filled the chamber, 25 of whom spoke. Almost equal numbers spoke in the categories For, Against and Comment, but all called the plan inadequate in regard to ecology and the environment. Barb Agnew re-iterated her request for specific ecological protections. City officials complied, adding wording to the plan before it was up for approval on Dec 18.
Will the city be able to fulfill the plan to conserve the Woods?
In order for Sanctuary Woods to be conserved, it needs to be re-zoned as a Conservation District, which the City has the authority to do. However, it needs the cooperation of the landowner which is Milwaukee County, especially since the land is in parcels with boundaries which do not correspond exactly to the boundaries of the Sanctuary Woods as described in the LSD plan.
The County has indicated its intention to respect the wishes of the City of Wauwatosa as laid out in the new LSD plan, according to a recent message from Peter Abbott. However, the County must deal with a proposal from a developer to do a project on a parcel to the west of the Woods which also encroaches on the Woods. This current situation is reminiscent of September 2017 before the County submitted a zoning application which was unacceptable to the City.
Let’s hope that the County remains steadfast in its respect for the LSD plan and works out a reasonable policy for potential developers of land on the borders of Sanctuary Woods, and that City officials involve themselves with the County to accomplish the objective of conserving the Woods.
Charlie Mitchell, a life-long conservationist and preservationist, is a member of the Wauwatosa Historic Preservation Commission. He attended most of the public hearings and meetings about the county grounds and spoke at several of them.
First published in Urban Milwaukee Online
8 Feb 2019
Some are eager to lease their land; others all it ugly
Bob Bishop is a 61-year old farmer living in dairy country in southwestern Wisconsin. Soon, however, the family will stop raising dairy cows because the industry is in trouble. The bishops, who farm in Iowa County, still carry debt from when hog prices tanked in the 1990s.
But a rare opportunity has come the Bishops’ way. For a least a generation, the family could receive double the market rental rate on about 650 acres used for a giant solar electric power project. “This is a good answer for the lagging ag economy. This provides us an excellent-looking future, a very bright future,” Bishop said. That would be renting out about one-third of their land, most of it now used to grow corn and soybeans.
Invenergy’s Badger Hollow Solar Farm is one of the largest solar utility projects planned for cropland anywhere in the country. The 300-megawatt project, which the company says could power about 77,000 homes, is envisioned for 35,000 acres of prime agricultural land. It is dividing the area’s farming community, pitting neighbor against neighbor.
Some residents who vocally oppose the project generally support renewable energy; some of them even have their own solar panels generating power for their rural homes. But because of the size of the project – nearly 5 ½ square miles – they fear the area will become a “solar wasteland”.
This is an opportunity to generate electricity locally, jobs, tax revenue and support local farmers,” said Invenergy’s renewable energy manager, Dan Litchfield. “The project could bring $1.1 million annual tax revenue to the County.”
The panels will face east in the morning and tilt throughout the day to catch the most sun. They will transfer power to machines called inverters to make alternating current compatible with the power grid. Underground collection lines will carry the energy to an overhead line and on to the grid. The project will be visually unobtrusive, and the farm’s inverters would only make a low humming noise, Litchfield said Alan Jewell and Richard Jinkins are farmers who both have long-held family land next to acres to be leased for the solar project. They have joined the formal process at the Public Service Commission to intervene in the Badger Hollow case. They love this countryside for its scenic beauty and feel the solar project would change that.
“This is an ugly, ugly mark on the land,” Jewell said. Why am I having this thrust upon me?”
Jewell said he is for renewable energy, but he thinks it should happen on an individual scale. People like him, who are not part of the project, will live with the down-sides but no benefit, he said.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel – Excerpts January 29, 2019
One driver took the time to publicly thank the Dane County Board for taking action that resulted in the removal of three large outdoor advertising signs. Here is a copy of the letter that appeared in the Wisconsin State Journal on Nov 8, 2018.
Thanks for removing billboards
My daily commute to work has improved by 100%, and I have the Dane County Board to thank for that.
Three huge billboards were along Aberg Avenue in Madison between the East Washington Avenue exit and the airport. What was once an ugly sight is now beautiful and clear, full of fall foliage that we all love in Madison.
It was a long time coming, and I want to thank the county for having those monstrosities removed and making Dane County even more beautiful than it already is.
Name Withheld, Madison
A report on the court action that upheld the order to remove these billboards appeared on this web site on December 29, 2016.
January 3, 2019
Video has been deleted by it’s source.
Citizens for a Scenic Wisconsin has been steadily pursuing its unique objective, seeking to preserve natural and manmade beauty in our surroundings, the only environmental organization in the State of Wisconsin wholly dedicated to scenic beauty.
Why is this necessary? Because pleasant surroundings are good for our souls, our quality of life. And because in this day of rampant commercialism, some of our most precious vistas are being lost or visually polluted. Some intentionally by outdoor advertisers with big billboards, some inadvertently by large buildings inappropriately placed.
This year we fought legislation advanced by billboard companies that would have allowed non-conforming billboards along highways in scenic rural settings to be rebuilt and enlarged.
We encouraged the development and helped promote a bill (that unfortunately did not become law this year) that would regulate rehabilitation and re-use, thus foster preservation, of charming old Wisconsin barns for social events such as weddings.
We consulted with and encouraged the Dane County Board of Supervisors as they decided to order the removal of three giant billboards on the property of the Dane County Airport, and they fought and won a lawsuit by the billboard company. The resulting scenic improvement makes people proud to approach their airport.
We encourage the conservation of existing trees and planting of more trees, especially in our cities where we know – from recent studies – that simply being in the solitude of woods or tree-lined streets helps heal patients with diseases or mental problems, and even reduces crime.
CSW has been at this, along with our affiliate Scenic America, since our founding in the year 2000.
It takes financial support to carry on. Please contribute however much you are willing and able to, however much fits into your budget. Send your check to:
7525 Oakhill Avenue
Wauwatosa WI 53213
Thank you and happy holidays.
The state Supreme Court ruled yesterday that Adams Outdoor Advertising does not have a right to visibility of its billboard. The City of Madison did not illegally take property from the billboard company by building a Beltline bridge for a bicycle path that blocked the view of a billboard, the Supreme Court said in a decision Tuesday.
In a 4-3 decision, the court agreed with a Dane County circuit judge and the 4th District Court of Appeals that Adams had failed to show that the City of Madison took property from Adams in 2013 that requires compensation when the City built the bridge for the Cannonball bike path over the beltline, just east of a Culver’s restaurant. Adams had claimed that the company is due compensation because it was deprived of “all economically beneficial use” of the west-facing side of the billboard. But the court said that the right to visibility of private property from a public road “is not a cognizable right giving rise to a protected property interest.”
20 June 2018
Relocating Non-conforming Billboards (AB594/SB496): Failed
“Maintenance” of Non-conforming Billboards (AB595/SB495): Passed
These two sets of bills were the latest in the never-ending endeavors of the outdoor advertising industry to allow non-conforming billboards to stand as if they were fully legal billboards. These bills were intended to allow non-conforming billboards to be used indefinitely, while it has been the intent of federal and state laws since 1972 that non-conforming billboards are to be taken down eventually. Non-conforming billboards are billboards that don’t meet the standards of the Federal Highway Beautification Act, but were built before the Act took effect and were allowed to remain in place.
AB594 would have allowed billboards that needed to be taken down because of highway expansions or improvements to be relocated elsewhere and would have overridden the authority of municipalities to regulate billboards locally, however it did not get out of the senate transportation committee. AB595, which construed renovation as maintenance of non-conforming billboards, was reduced in scope in committee, but passed the legislature to become law.
Reducing the extent of these bills was due in large part to the efforts of Scenic Wisconsin active members Gary Goyke, Vernie Smith and Charley Weeth and their testimony in committee hearings. The Transportation Department, which usually testifies on bills such as these in committee sessions, usually speaking “for information”, was conspicuously absent this year. Gary has heard knowledgeable state legislators say that AB595 will be unenforceable to a large extent because it diverges from broader state and federal laws.
28 Apr 2018
Despite expectations by scenic advocates that the bill would pass after the hearing by the Assembly Committee on House and Real Estate, the bill did not pass in the assembly. This bill would have relaxed building codes for historic barns so that it would be practical to upgrade them to use for social events. Many old barns with their gambrel roofs are charming sites for events such as weddings and receptions. The bill was a revision of a bill introduced earlier in the session which was a modification of a bill on this subject introduced, but did not pass, in the session ending May 2016.
Citizens for a Scenic Wisconsin was the only organization registered and active in support of this bill, while the Tavern League and the Realtors Association opposed it. The Tavern League saw improved barns as competition to taverns and the Realtors argued that relaxed requirements for barns was an unfair advantage while other newer buildings for social events were held to higher standards. The League of Municipalities did not take a position on this issue.
Author Rep. Travis Tranel of Cuba City (near Platteville) in southwestern Wisconsin has said that he will try again next year. Tranel has a love of the iconic old structures which are gradually disappearing from the Wisconsin landscape.
18 Jan 2018
Barn bill would make it practical to hold social events in old barns
A delegation of three concerned citizens led by Gary Goyke testified at a hearing before the state assembly’s Committee of Housing and Real Estate to express their support for a bill that would simplify safety and fire regulations for old barns used to host social events such as wedding receptions and birthday parties. This bill not only benefits barn owners who could use their barns as a business, but preserves the iconic barns as part of the Wisconsin landscape that people enjoy.
Citizens for a scenic Wisconsin held a board of directors meeting in a rustic barroom adjacent to an iconic old barn in Platteville in November 2016, hosted by barn owner Curt Timlin. Curt recounted how he got into the business of renting his barn for social events. He started with hosting Badger Camp for kids and having a dance in the barn. Then he hosted his snow mobile club and went on to school proms and weddings. He can accommodate 300 people in the barn which was built in 1957 and has a pointed-arch roof. He has a liquor license.
State and local inspectors got involved after a snow mobile party in January. At first they wanted combustible materials removed, smoke detectors installed and a handicapped access ramp built, which Curt said he took steps to comply with. But then they asked for a sprinkler system, egress upgrade, and a structural study which Curt could not afford. Now he holds his events in a large tent on a concrete slab next to the barn and has built a shed to house a bar alongside the tent. The big barn is only in the background.
Curt contacted his state representative Travis Tranel who wrote a bill AB 947 that would allow historic barns to be used for social events if they met basic safety standards, with prohibitively expensive upgrades such as sprinkler systems not required. The bill did not pass in the last legislative session, ended in May.
Travis introduced himself as a dairy farmer and said he loves old barns, they give him feelings of nostalgia. He sees old-time barns going down and it affects him as the loss of our heritage. He believes that it possible to have reasonable regulations for barns used for social events so that they are safe. He said he will press for passage of a new bill in the 2017-2018 session.
That new bill is AB187. After the hearing, it looks likely that the bill will become law soon.
11 Jan 2018
Bills would allow non-conforming billboards to be re-located, re-built
Vernie Smith makes his case with reference to a model of a non-conforming billboard
In public hearings of the Assembly and Senate Transportation Committees, Vernie Smith spoke on behalf of Citizens for a Scenic Wisconsin in opposition to the bills. The subjects of the hearings were two bills that benefit the outdoor advertising industry – weakening the authority of municipalities to regulate billboards and weakening state rules on “non-conforming” billboards. Vernie was accompanied by fellow Scenic Wisconsin members Rich Eggleston and president Gary Goyke. They counter-acted advocacy for the bills by well-funded Outdoor Advertising executives and their lobbyist.
The first bill, AB594/SB496, would allow reconstructing or relocating non-conforming billboards that lose visibility or must be removed entirely because of a highway improvement project. (The intent of state and local laws for billboards that are non-conforming under the law is that they are to be eliminated eventually, not re-built, certainly not re-located.) The billboard interests argued that the bill would save the state and municipalities costs of condemnation and buy-out. Vernie argued that municipal sign and billboard ordinances have no-doubt resulted in lower, smaller and fewer billboards which are requiring less-costly buyouts.
The other bill AB595/SB495, would allow “limited” reconstruction, “temporary” enlargement and addition of safety features like catwalks to billboards that don’t conform to state law. The title of the bill is “relating to removal of outdoor advertising signs”. Vernie argued that the bill was not about removal of signs, but about preservation and perpetuation of signs. He said that the Highway Beautification Act did not intend that billboards be indefinitely rebuilt. He said adding size to billboards violated the act. He had a model of an older, non-conforming billboard in which he switched out the parts, making one “single repair” after another until all posts had been replaced and the face had been replaced. He demonstrated that it had become a completely new billboard in an illegal location – a location where a company would not be allowed to site a new billboard.
Also on this same subject, Charley Weeth has sent strongly worded emails with comprehensive arguments against these bills to the legislators who sponsored them.
These bills were not put on the agenda of “executive sessions” of the transportation committees, effectively “tabling” them. So far, so good for scenery, although the legislative year is not over until March.
5 Dec 2017
Gary Goyke, president of Scenic Wisconsin, on the CityWalk holding the award certificate
while speaking for local TV cameras before presenting the award to Dan Ditscheit,
superintendent in the Green Bay Dept. of Parks.
Press release announces the award:
The Citizens for a Scenic Wisconsin will be holding a Board and Membership meeting in Green Bay, Wisconsin on Saturday, September 16,2017. The meetings and award presentation will take place over the noon hour at St. Brendan’s Inn, 234 South Washington Street in downtown Green Bay.
“CSW is very happy to announce that CityDeck will receive the 2017 ‘Outstanding Public Scenic Space Award,’” stated the founder of CSW, Mr. Chuck Mitchell of Wauwatosa. The award will be presented to the Mayor of the City of Green Bay and to the Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department.
The CityDeck is at the very heart of Green Bay’s Fox River waterfront. The boardwalk activates the riverfront and provides spaces for gatherings, docking, watching and playing. The sectional diversity creates a wide range of seating configurations and scenic river overlooks. Green Bay’s CityDeck is a public park and thus ensures public access at all times.
“Our Board of Directors and Membership are very impressed with this particular kind of creative and beautifully designed public space. Congratulations to the great City of Green Bay and to the Parks Department for a job well done…and we know that no marine mishap will keep it from coming back even better to serve the public,” stated Gary Goyke, president of the organization.
“Our Board of Directors and Membership are very impressed with this particular kind of creative and beautifully designed public space. Congratulations to the great City of Green Bay and to the Parks Department for a job well done…and we know that no marine mishap will keep it from coming back even better to serve the public,” stated Gary Goyke, president of the organization.
16 Sep 2017
Text of Gary Goyke’s statement to a state senate committee:
To: Members, State Senate Committee on Insurance, Housing and Trade Senator Frank Lasee, chair
From: Gary R. Goyke, President, Citizens for a Scenic Wisconsin
Re: Support for SB137 relating to Barns Used for Special Events
“Chairman Lasee, thank you for holding this public hearing, and thank you and the members of the committee for giving us this opportunity to speak with you today.
Citizens for a Scenic Wisconsin is a proud affiliate of Scenic America. In fulfillment of our mission statement, we are actively involved in the promotion and growth of the Rustic Road program in our state, we actively support the Wisconsin Department of Transportation Scenic Byway system, we believe in the preservation efforts for rural historic barns, we support efforts to enhance agricultural tourism and often join the battle to fight the proliferation of billboards along our state and Interstate highway thoroughfares.
Our board of directors went to Platteville to interview several people involved in the issues included in bill SB137. We met with local news media and with the Assembly author of the bill Travis Tranel. I am happy to say that our board voted unanimously to support this legislation. Iconic old barns can be put to good use as venues for social events. I am leaving the committee a book on barns that we use to promote rustic cultural preservation and rural tourism.
We take this subject very seriously and urge the committee to adopt the bill.
Thank you for your time and attention.”
June 1, 2017
The Wisconsin State Journal tells the story
Subject of op-ed article by Rich Eggleston below
A Dane County judge on Thursday declined a request by a billboard advertising firm to delay the removal of three North Side billboards while it appeals a decision in which the judge threw out its open meetings lawsuit against Dane County.
Circuit Judge Frank Remington said he didn’t believe that Adams Outdoor Advertising was likely to succeed in its appeal of Remington’s decision, made last month.
In that ruling, Remingtonfound insufficient evidence that Dane County Board members had improperly decided against renewing a lease of county land along Aberg Avenue where the billboards have stood since 1966.
In August, Adams sued the Dane County Board over the 18-16 decision in April not to renew the lease.
Adams alleged that Sup. Paul Rusk violated the state open meetings law and its prohibition against ‘walking quorums’ by improperly lining up votes against the lease renewal.
Adams wanted Remington to order that the board take another vote on the lease.
On Thursday, soon after Remington’s decision not to grant a stay that would keep the billboards up, Adams filed an appeal with the state 4th District Court of Appeals, seeking an immediate review.
Under its contract with Dane County, which expires Saturday, Adams would have 10 days to remove the billboards.
Adams’ lawyer, Brian Potts, argued that once the billboards are removed, it would be impossible to restore them should the appeals court rule in Adams’ favor.
But Remington called Adams’ chances of succeeding in its appeal ‘slim at best.’
–Ed Treleven, Wisconsin State Journal
Read more coverage in the Wisconsin State Journal here
29 Dec 2016
Op-ed article makes the case against big signs
FITCHBURG — If you have an eye sore you go to an ophthalmologist, unless your eyesore is a billboard. Then, if you’re Adams Outdoor Advertising Co., you go to a lawyer.
Adams’ lawyers’ efforts to bend the law to their will are not always successful, but they keep trying. In February, Dane County Circuit Judge Richard Niess rejected Adams’ claim that partly obstructing the view of one of its billboards with an overpass on Madison’s busy Beltline in Fitchburg was not an unlawful taking of private property, as Adams had contended.
Adams avoided lawsuits when it settled longstanding disputes with the city of Madison in 2011, but the settlements came at a cost to the public. While Adams agreed to remove two eyesores — one at Union Corners and the other at the Villager Shopping Center on the South Side — it was given the right to apply for five new billboards, as though Madison’s ban on new billboards didn’t exist. This is an example of how valuable billboards are — to the billboard companies.
Adams wanted to preserve that billboard infrastructure despite opposition by pesky neighbors, so it went to court to challenge the County Board’s 18-16 vote, taken on April 7, against renewing a lease for a billboard on county land on Aberg Avenue near the Dane County Regional Airport.
The real question isn’t the legal technicality on which Adams wants to hang its hat, or its convoluted view of its rights. It’s whether signing a billboard lease is like entering into a marriage contract “until death do us part.” According to the law unto Adams, once you’ve signed that lease, there may be no such thing as a divorce.
In fact, we’ve always had the right to view the natural landscape, and billboard companies have never had the right to impose their message between you and that natural landscape.
It all brings to mind the doggerel penned by Ogden Nash (with apologies to Joyce Kilmer):
“I think that I shall never see/a billboard lovely as a tree./Perhaps, unless the billboards fall/I’ll never see a tree at all.”
Far-fetched? Not in Wisconsin, where state law gives billboard companies the right to cut trees on public property if they interfere with passing motorists’ view of a billboard.
Eggleston, of Fitchburg, is a member of the board of directors of Citizens for a Scenic Wisconsin.
18 Sep 2016