By Jesse Wood
Jan. 2, 2013. The recent 100+ mph winds that broke records atop Grandfather Mountain and killed a cow in Bethel a few days before Christmas also damaged six billboards in Watauga County.
Now, a damaged billboard isn’t usually such a big deal. However, a billboard damaged to the point of replacement is a big deal because of the Watauga County sign ordinance amended in 2009 that doesn’t allow any new advertising signs to be permitted ever again.
N.C. Department of Transportation Technician Brandon Greer drove around the High Country today inventorying the structures and taking photographs. He found six billboards that appeared to be damaged.
Five of those structures were on the ground with possible pole damage and one had face damage, Greer said. All six were wooden-pole structures, which are much more susceptible to damage than the steel-beam or monopole structures.
If the billboards are damaged beyond a certain percentage, they must be replaced, according to NCDOT regulations, and therefore wouldn’t be allowed to be resurrected in Watauga County. Greer said he won’t know the extent of the damage until he performs some calculations, but he added that no damaged billboards have fallen prey to the amended ordinance since it was enacted in 2009.
Watauga County Planning and Inspections Director Joe Furman said his office has been looking into the damaged billboards today as well.
“Determining the percentage of the destruction is going to be the sticking point,” Furman said. “It’s possible, they will have to be removed, and we don’t allow new ones – unless the ordinance gets amended again.”
Lamar Outdoor Advertising has dozens of billboards in Watauga County and some of its billboards were among those that were damaged during the recent hazardous winter weather.
“I am not worried. None are damaged to that point,” Machut said, adding that, generally speaking, nine out of ten Lamar Outdoor Advertising billboards that are damaged are repaired in line with NCDOT regulations and don’t have to be replaced
He said that Lamar Outdoor Advertising has more than 1,500 billboards in between the High Country and Burlington, and if one goes down, he said he receives a phone call immediately from the landowner.
He mentioned that every year, the number of billboards diminishes because of ordinances and regulations and weather.
“The number is forever dwindling,” Machut said. “The landowners are in absolute fear of that happening. They need us.”
And in a place like the High Country, which has four-season weather that is sometimes dramatic, Machut said a thunderstorm in the spring and/or extreme winds in the winter are capable of taking out a billboard.
“It’s always a concern, but you can’t control the weather,” he said.
Below are photos by Ken Ketchie of fallen billboards in the High Country near Poplar Grove on N.C. 105, Tweetsie Railroad and Tanger Outlets on U.S. 321.