Testimony by Pete Didisheim, NRCM Senior Director of Advocacy
Senator Valentino, Representative Mazurek, 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 404.
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 you will hold hearings on three more bills, requiring signs for certain snowmobile clubs, the Underground Railroad Memorial, and the Oxford Casino. And three more 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.
LD 404 proposes that directional signs be allowed on Maine roadways for any snowmobile club affiliated with a statewide nonprofit association for the purpose of promoting snowmobiling. Unlike some of the other bills that will come before you, this one is potentially boundless in terms of the number of signs it could spawn across the landscape.
Maine has more than 285 snowmobile clubs affiliated with the Maine Snowmobile Association (MSA), according to the MSA website. These clubs help promote 14,000 miles of snowmobile trails. LD 404 could potentially allow any of these clubs to install signs without a license or permit essentially anywhere in Maine.
The bill creates a new categorical sign category for which a license or permit would not be necessary. But this allowance would be nothing like any of the other provisions in MSRA 23 §1913-A â which deals with signs such as those used to direct people to places of worship or a town government office, or signs for a candidate campaign.
This bill would create a big loophole in Maine’s sign laws for snowmobile clubs, which almost certainly would lead to other recreation clubs wanting similar permissions in the future. One can easily anticipate that hunting clubs, hiking clubs, and ATV clubs might want their own bill to allow the placement of signs hither and yon.
We believe that Maine’s Traveler Information Services Law (MSRA 23, Chapter 21) enacted more than 30 years ago struck the right balance and has served Maine well. I would like to bring the Committee’s attention to three of the legislative findings in that statute, that remain true today and help explain why this bill is problematic (23 §1901):
3. Scenic resources. Scenic resources of great value are distributed throughout the State, and have contributed greatly to its economic development by attracting tourists, permanent and part-time residents and new industries and cultural facilities.
4. Preservation of scenic resources. The scattering of outdoor advertising throughout the State is detrimental to the preservation of those scenic resources, and so to the economic base of the State, and is also not an effective method of providing information to tourists about available facilities.
5. Proliferation of outdoor advertising. The proliferation in number, size and manner of outdoor advertising is hazardous to highway users.
In today’s information society, road signs of the type proposed by LD 404 are increasingly irrelevant. If someone is looking for information about snowmobile trails, they can find what they need on-line or using their hand-held device. And they can get so much more information in that fashionâincluding trail conditions, topography, maps, services along the trail, etc.
LD 404 would push Maine out onto a slippery slope from which there might be no return. For these reasons, NRCM urges that you vote Ought Not to Pass on LD 404.
I appreciate this opportunity to testify and would be glad to answer any questions you may have.