Testimony by Pete Didisheim, NRCM Senior Director of Advocacy
Senator Mazurek, Representative Theriault and members of the Joint Standing Committee on Transportation. My name is Pete Didisheim, I am the Advocacy Director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine, and I appreciate this opportunity to testify in opposition to LD 332.
This bill is one of nine bills that will come before your committee this session directing the Department of Transportation to provide signs on Maine’s highways for a particular purpose. You have held public hearings already on three billsâwhich would require directional signs for the Lee Academy, Berwick Academy, and the Katahdin Trail. Today’s hearings address three additional sign requests, and an additional three bills have yet to be printed.
This sudden escalation of legislative sign requests is troubling and poses a direct threat to Maine’s billboard ban. Viewed in isolation, each bill might not seem like a problem, but I urge you to consider the potential cumulative impact if the Legislature heads down this very slippery slope.
LD 332 directs the Department of Transportation to install directional signs for the Underground Railroad Memorial at Chamberlain Freedom Park on Interstate 95 (Exit 182 northbound and southbound), on Interstate 395 (Exit 4, northbound and southbound), and also in the City of Brewer on South Main Street.
NRCM’s opposition to this proposal has nothing to do with the significance of the Underground Railroad Memorial at Chamberlain Freedom Park. Rather, we believe that this billâif approvedâwould give rise to untold additional requests in future legislative sessions for directional signs to similarly worthy historic sites. And if those bills also were passed, sign clutter would spread across our roadways as the billboard ban was undermined one sign at a time.
I understand that the Underground Railroad Memorial at Chamberlain Freedom Park is described as the only “official Maine memorial” to the underground railroad, but the Maine Underground Railroad Association has identified about 100 significant sites around Maine that may have been underground railroad stations. A Quaker Church in Maple Grove is one such site. Harriet Beecher Stowe House in Brunswick likewise is an important anti-slavery location, as is Portland’s Abyssinian Meeting House.
How many of these locations also will be the subject of future legislation if LD 332 were to pass. And what about landmarks of other important periods of Maine history â including shipbuilding, forest products, commercial fishing, and Maine’s tribal history.
The proliferation of signs in a place like Maine, prized for its scenery, is one obvious concern. But it is important to realize that in this era of smart phones, GPS, on-board navigation services, and tablet computers, that signage is not how people find their destinations.
Someone looking for information about the underground railroad can download an Underground Railroad Locator App from the Apple Store for $1.99 and have a complete directory of significant sites that were part of the underground railroad. That’s how people find locations todayânot through signs, and more signs, and even more signs cropping up on our roadways.
We appreciate that the Committee has tabled the previous sign bills that have come before you this year, and you have created a subgroup of legislators to consider these issues further. We urge you to table LD 332 as well, and we hope that when the time comes you will vote Ought Not to Pass on LD 332 and all the bills that would chip away at Maine’s billboard ban.
I appreciate this opportunity to testify and would be glad to answer any questions you may have.