SALISBURY — The state's Office of Outdoor Advertising plans to issue construction permits for a digital billboard off I-95 – possibly as early as Monday – in spite of objections from residents and state lawmakers.
Outdoor Media Properties Inc. applied two years ago to the Massachusetts Department of Transportation's Office of Outdoor Advertising to build an 89-foot-high, dual-faced billboard next to I-95 at 109 Rabbit Road.
Although the plan was approved by the town's Zoning Board of Appeals, several neighboring residents, including Bartlett Farm owner Donna Bartlett, have been vocal in opposition to the proposal.
The Board of Selectmen sent a letter to the state opposing the proposal in April and state Rep. Jim Kelcourse, R-Amesbury, also publicly voiced his opposition to the plan.
Voters at the May 20 Town Meeting also approved banning any digitally or electronically projected billboard over 200 square feet in the future.
But the plan ultimately fell into the hands of the MassDOT's Office of Outdoor Advertising, which notified Kelcourse and state Sen. Diana DiZoglio, D-Methuen, in a June 3 letter the department "plans to issue the subject permits in the coming days.
Kelcourse and DiZoglio had asked the state for a traffic study on the affected area, but the letter from Office of Outdoor Advertising director John Romano said "a detailed traffic study is not warranted."
According to Romano, the proposed billboard "has more than adequate sight distance and sufficient acceleration lane distance from the merging traffic" on both I-495 and I-95 from where it will be in view.
"There are no safety concerns with the position of this (billboard) according to the engineering methods we have consistently used to evaluate the safety of the site," the letter said.
Kelcourse didn't mince words on the issue in his reply to The Daily News Friday.
"This is a true disgrace," he said. "I oppose this in the strongest possible terms. The process stinks. This is not an appropriate site for this, both for safety reasons and aesthetically. But there are other avenues (Sen. DiZoglio) and I can work to explore to try to impact this decision to prevent the billboard from going up."
Kelcourse said disappointed residents "can also explore any legal remedies that might be available to them too."
"I can only do so much as a state representative," he said. "When it comes to local residents deciding to pursue this legally, they are of course allowed to do that through their own counsel."
In an email to the newspaper on Friday, DiZoglio said the billboard approval is "unfortunate."
“There has been overwhelming concern among residents that this digital billboard in Salisbury, which is destined to be the size of a trailer truck, will be a blinding eyesore," she wrote. "Most pressing, however, have been public safety concerns. Since the intersection at Routes 95 and 495 has seen no shortage of accidents in recent years, there is overwhelming sentiment that driving dangers are likely to be worsened by the presence of a distracting billboard.”
DiZoglio said "it is absolutely imperative that the concerns of constituents in Salisbury and neighboring communities be finally addressed.”
“Residents of Salisbury and surrounding communities are right to be upset about this project," DiZoglio said.
Although Kelcourse said he was unaware exactly when the permits would be issued, he added, “I understand the state will take some action on this on Monday," June 10.
Staff writer Jim Sullivan covers Amesbury and Salisbury for The Daily News. He can be reached via email at email@example.com or by phone at 978-961-3145. Follow him on Twitter @ndnsully.
ONLINE EXTRA: To read a PDF of the letter notifying local lawmakers about the decision, go to newburyportnews.com