City tourism sign illegal, MnDOT saysJohn Bray calls it a black-and-white issue when it comes to the Minnesota Department of Transportation ordering the removal of a billboard on the west side of Two Harbors. “It was never permitted and will not be permitted.”
John Bray calls it a black-and-white issue when it comes to the Minnesota Department of Transportation ordering the removal of a billboard on the west side of Two Harbors. “It was never permitted and will not be permitted.”
Gordy Anderson, president of Two Harbors Chamber of Commerce, hopes to find a little gray in the discussion. He received a letter this week telling him that the chamber’s billboard touting area businesses on Highway 61 does not have a permit and is thus illegally placed. He has 60 days to remove it.
The chamber doesn’t have many options because Highway 61’s status as a scenic highway doesn’t allow for new signs. Simply getting a permit would be considered getting a new sign. Other signs along the highway in Two Harbors were grandfathered in once the road was named a National Scenic Byway and then an All American Road in the past 10 years. Other signs are allowed if they are on-premise and promote that business.
Anderson says the chamber wasn’t aware that the sign had no permit. Over the years, its stewardship has been passed from Sonju Motors to the local historical society and then a downtown business group. “We took it upon ourselves,” Anderson said, to fix up the sign and solicit sponsors for it. “It didn’t come for free.”
Now Anderson is worried about losing a tool in promoting the area for tourism. “This is not the time to do this,” Anderson said.
MnDOT did what spokes-man Bray said was a long-overdue assessment of billboards along 61, from Duluth to Canada, after it battled a resort owner in Schroeder over what it called an illegally placed sign along the highway. Marian McKeever of Satellite’s Country Inn said she was singled out unfairly two years ago. MnDOT said her sign was encroaching on the right-of-way.
“We treat everyone the same,” Bray said
McKeever said the process leaves little room for a visible sign at her property.
“Technically, they’ve put me out of business,” she said.
MnDOT, to reiterate its fairness doctrine, then did the assessment along all of 61 to the Canada border.
It found the Two Harbors sign and one for Lamb’s Resort, also in Schroeder, didn’t have permits.
In Skip Lamb’s case, he had a county permit but didn’t realize his sign required a state OK.
“We thought we were good,” Lamb said. He says he’ll likely move his sign but holds hope for some relief from MnDOT.
“I think there’s a chance we can mediate it,” he said. He said because there are just two signs out of compliance, something should be worked out.
Both he and the chamber have lobbied state and federal representatives.
MnDOT is holding firm. Scott Robinson, who’s in charge of signs along Minnesota highways, said the signs have to go and they can’t be replaced because “there’s no new billboards allowed on a scenic road.”
The only wiggle room the chamber might have had was in a “gap” allowance along the highway. A gap allows new signs if they are permitted by MnDOT. Duluth Beaver Bay, Silver Bay, and Grand Marais all have gap provisions. Why Two Harbors doesn’t is a mystery to Bray.
The chamber will likely have to remove the sign, wait for the city to fall under the gap, and hope it can get a permit to put the sign back up.
For Anderson, its a pain he’d rather not deal with as the busy tourism season is set to begin.
“With two signs from here to Canada you can’t tell me something can’t be done,” Anderson said.
Chamber members have been asked to lobby state officials hard and will begin in earnest next week.
Up at Lamb’s, Skip Lamb talks about how long his sign, or the chamber sign have been up without “anyone getting hurt.”
“It’s just hard to envision it as a big problem all of a sudden,” he said. “We’re trying to get a resort open.”
There aren’t any options in Schroeder because it isn’t considered a municipality like the cities with gaps.
Robinson said MnDOT does yearly checks of billboards along highways but somehow Highway 61 had been forgotten for years.
Bray said it was “sort a surprise” that more noncompliant signs weren’t found.
He said both the chamber and Lamb should have known about the permit status. “Anytime you put something up, you need to know if its located correctly and you need a permit.”
Bray has heard from Lamb about his sign woes and his lobbying effort to representatives. “I tell him he can call President Obama,” Bray said. “We are going to enforce this law.”
“We’ll keep talking to the guys who help make the rules,” Lamb said. “They can change rules too.”