Four years ago, a controversy over an illegal billboard in Evans got area residents worked up about following the rules and saving a few trees.
The good guys eventually won the battle. But they're about to lose the war without another verbal shot being fired.
Here's the history lesson (and yes, even though it was only in 2001, that's long enough ago that our culture views it as near-ancient history -- especially in a county where it seems like most of our residents just got here):
It all began when a fellow named Pudge Roberts decided to go into the billboard business -- what its proponents call "outdoor display advertising." Roberts built a giant steel billboard alongside Washington Road in Evans. Its single massive post was anchored in concrete at the edge of Club Car's property, and the board hovered over the CSX railroad tracks that parallel Washington Road.
Just one problem: The billboard's edge was too close to the highway, by just a few feet. Roberts was told he'd have to move it back unless he received a waiver from the county rules.
Furthermore, Roberts let it be known that if such a variance was approved, he already had the OK from CSX to clear all the trees between the tracks and Washington Road to make his billboard more visible.
Folks weren't happy, and let the commissioners know it. Commissioners turned down the variance, dumping the billboard and saving the trees.
That meant Roberts' billboard suddenly became worthless scrap metal, and his investment evaporated. So he sued. The case dragged on for a couple of years, and eventually went away after Roberts sold the billboard.
Well, not quite. The buyer moved the billboard a few hundred feet west and re-erected it, and it now provides a high-profile entrance sign across the street from Hank Aaron Jaguar-Land Rover.
So though the billboard is still around, the trees are doomed. County officials -- quite rightly, I might add -- are seeking permission from CSX to encroach on the railroad tracks' right of way. The extra space would allow the county to add a turning lane to Washington Road in front of Goodwill, to help cut down on the horrendous number of accidents there. (The Georgia Department of Transportation helpfully tells us that such turning lanes improve safety by 35 percent.)
The price for that safety is a huge swath of trees between the road and the tracks. If CSX gives the OK, those trees that were saved four years ago by public outcry will fall to make improvements in public safety.
Ah, well. At least it'll be easier to shop at Goodwill now. And somewhere, Pudge Roberts has got to be laughing.
New road coming
Speaking of tree removal, motorists a bit further out on Washington Road, west of Windmill and Lake Cumberland, can peer out into the woods and see the logging activity taking place on the north side of the highway.
This isn't just a routine timber harvest, says landowner Robert Pollard. These trees are coming down to make way for what is perhaps one of the most-needed roads in Columbia County.
Pretty soon, the work will begin to create a second entrance to the Greenbrier school complex and the surrounding neighborhoods, Pollard says. The road will intersect Washington Road at Old Washington Road, and provide tremendous relief to the area's school-time traffic nightmare.
The road is being built entirely with private dollars, Pollard adds. "I don't know how long it's going to be," he says, "but we're building that road."
Hallelujah; it can't come too soon.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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