Far too often, Columbia County's roads have been the spot where one of our residents has drawn his or her last breath after being involved in a vehicle crash.
Almost as often, after the debris has cleared, friends and family members visit the site to set up a roadside shrine.
It's a touching reminder of a painful loss. But it's important to remember that these shrines typically are erected on public property - and as a result are there only with the indulgence of the public.
County commissioners, who oversee roadside rights-of-way for county streets, have taken the right path in responding to what can be a very touchy issue. A county ordinance allows the shrines for one year; after that, they should be removed, though a marker can be painted on the asphalt at the spot.
That's entirely reasonable, especially when you consider that those roadsides belong to everyone. Though often junked up with illegally placed signs and other detritus of commerce, rights-of-way simply aren't the proper place for private structures.
Why? Because the land belongs to everyone. It's just about impossible to write a law that makes it OK to build sometimes-elaborate roadside shrines while also keeping away placards for furniture sales and political candidates. Either the property is public, or it isn't.
The county's ordinance recently was considered and essentially re-ratified by commissioners. It recognizes the pain of an untimely death, while gently encouraging mourners to find a more appropriate permanent spot for a memorial after a full year has passed. Even then, the county doesn't insist on removing the shrines unless someone complains, or unless the memorials obstruct traffic.
This seems to strikes a good balance. It acknowledges the grief of the family and friends of the victim, yet respects the public ownership of roadsides. It's a stroke of fairness for a tough and touchy subject.
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