SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – If you’ve ever been on the I-15 in Utah, you’ve been confronted by the high number of billboards bordering the highway.
Scenic Utah is working to “eliminate visual pollution in Utah” by restricting the number and type of billboards and other eyesores allowed in our vistas.
ABC4 spoke to Scenic Utah’s director Kate Kopischke about what the organization is doing to preserve Utah’s natural beauty. She says that most of the support the organization gets is from the “passion and interest of people fed up with billboards,” but they also work to eliminate visual pollution in the form of bright digital signs, cell towers, and overhead utility wires.
“Utah law grants more special privileges to billboard owners than any other type of private landowner, and more than any other state,” says Kopischke. “It’s very hard for cities and towns in Utah to regulate billboards.” This means that once in place, local governments have very little power to remove a billboard or even set standards for what it should look like.
Kopischke even mentioned some billboards in Utah were constructed before modern zoning laws and are in current violation of local ordinances.
“Any other property violating these ordinances would be under tight control by local government,” says Kopischke.
“The billboard industry will say it’s an issue of private landowner rights,” acknowledges Kopischke. “Cities and towns should better control how their communities look and feel. One of the things that people come and stay here for is Utah’s natural beauty. It’s a huge asset.”
She says the more we block and pollute our views, the less we can appreciate them.
Scenic Utah’s main obstacle in removing eyesores from Utah’s views is state laws, which are really favorable for billboard owners. Decisions about these laws are made by state political representatives, who have been lobbied for years by billboard advocates.
Scenic Utah is trying to highlight that according to their polling data. Utahns from across political, ideological, and identity lines all tend to support removing billboards from Utah’s views. Even rural and urban Utah residents agree that billboards should go.
Kopischke says that Scenic Utah is primarily working to educate and inform Utah residents and their legislators about visual pollution in Utah. They emphasize one of their current projects titled “Beauty is Good for Business” which celebrates “aesthetic design and beautiful environments” in populated areas and its positive economic impact on businesses in Utah.
Scenic Utah also recently put out a “primer” for local governments on how to strengthen ordinances that regulate digital signs and billboards in their communities. Kopischke says that Utahns who want to get involved should continue to inform themselves about why there are so many billboards in Utah and what keeps them there. Utahns can also call or write to their local state representatives to lobby for legislative change.