Stock image | Photo courtesy of Angelica Reyn, Pexels, St. George News
ST. GEORGE- From Ogden to St. George, billboards and unused structures run up and down Interstate 15.
Scenic Utah, a nonprofit organization aimed at cultivating Utah’s natural beauty, calls it “visual pollution.” The organization has taken further steps in its efforts to reduce this by holding a statewide photo contest open to all public submissions.
There are six categories in the photo contest. Each category winner will receive a $50 photo print from Nichols Photo Lab, a $50 Cotopaxi backpack, and a $50 gift card for Pictureline, Inc.
Anyone can submit photos for the contest on Scenic Utah’s website. Submissions close September 1.
Kate Kopischke, executive director of Scenic Utah, spoke with St. George News about the contest and the purpose of the organization.
Describe each category of the competition.
“‘Off the Beaten Path’ is for lesser-known, remote, or hard-to-reach places in our beautiful state – that don’t require breaking or violating other laws to be photographed.”
“’Scenic Night Skies’ is for astrophotography of all types. Long exposures or quick shots of the stars with captivating silhouettes, and everything in between. »
“’My Rural Roots’ is for quaint farms and rural communities that celebrate Utah’s heritage.
“’Town, City, and State Parks’ is for the parks you love to visit, whether they’re a block away or across the state.”
“’The Visual Pollution We Want Away’ is for that blood-boiling billboard; the trash pile or deteriorating billboard in your neighborhood; those overhead power lines blocking an otherwise incredible view of the horizon… in other words, the scenes you wish were different.
“‘Community character’ is the architecture, public art, garden or other enchanting places in the man-made environment that brings you joy and makes you love your community.”
Please elaborate a bit on “visual pollution”.
“Visual pollution is anything in a landscape that affects or disturbs the aesthetic quality of our natural and man-made landscapes. It’s ugliness in the environment, but it’s not just about aesthetics. It is a social problem that affects people’s quality of life, including our physical and mental health. It also lowers property values and suppresses economic development.
“In some ways it has become so ubiquitous that people hardly notice it. Things like overhead utilities, dilapidated structures, cell phone towers, graffiti, trash piles, and billboards are often just accepted as natural features in an environment until you start to report it. People often tell us they never thought about it until someone else pointed out how ugly something is, like a billboard.
How will participating in this photo contest help fight visual pollution in Southern Utah?
“Participating in the competition is a way for people to help raise awareness of the growing problem of visual pollution, and raising awareness is the first step towards changing sensitivities and policies. The scenic preservation movement is a visual movement; people react to images, images of things and places they love and images of things and places that upset them.
“A picture of the scenic area around Leeds that is clogged with billboards advertising strip clubs and casinos is a more visceral story of pollution that is better than a written description. These are the stories we need help telling.
What specific tracts of land in southern Utah seem to be piling up billboards?
“Some of the densest and most visually polluting concentrations of billboards are found in southern Utah – particularly those at the Beaver, Cedar City and Hamilton Fort interchanges.”
“New billboards have recently been installed in Snowfield and Pintura. Washington County apparently decided to allow them because there is a gravel pit nearby. Maybe their reasoning was “it’s already ugly” – but these are unfortunate additions to southern Utah. There are controversial billboards in Tocqueville, Leeds and Washington.
“In Sun River in the 1990s, when St. George turned down a billing request, the company gave the Shivwits Paiute a loan to buy 25 acres along I-15 within the city limits of St. George. The Shivwits got the BIA to hold the land in trust for the tribe, and the billboard company put up a handful of billboards that advertise mostly Nevada casinos.
Why do they keep coming back? How can residents fight against the construction of these billboards?
“State laws in Utah are very favorable to billboard companies. In fact, the legislator grants outdoor advertising companies preferential treatment and advantages that few other companies enjoy. Local governments have very little say in how billboards are regulated in their communities because state laws overrule them.
“The Home Builders Association is very clear that billboards are not allowed on farmland and they do not allow ‘strip zoning’ for billboards. Counties and industry are circumventing Home Builders Association regulations by setting up fake storage sheds and calling the land commercial. And in many places in Utah, it’s strip farmland with no cost or consequences.
“Scenic Utah has been on the front lines raising these issues with lawmakers and local elected officials. We have offered help to communities, businesses, local governments to enforce their ordinances and fight against unjust laws.
“For residents to fight back, it’s important that they work together on specific demands — bringing them to their local leaders and telling their state lawmakers about the impact of billboards on their neighborhoods, their businesses and their quality of life. It is very difficult to make changes as an individual. The successes we have seen involve coalitions of neighbors or community groups demanding action.
How has Southern Utah contributed to Scenic Utah in the past?
“In 2021, Senate Bill 61 was introduced which would have allowed all existing billboards statewide to be converted to digital. It was a pivotal moment in the work of Scenic Utah when the organization worked tirelessly to educate people about the implications of this statewide legislation.
“There are many communities in southern Utah that already ban billboards but can’t do anything about grandfathered ones. Even in communities where new billboards are banned, this law would have allowed billboard companies to have enlightened video messages. any existing council.
“We have developed and distributed a statewide primer to all city planners and city councils regarding local billboard ordinances because many of these issues are regulated at the local level.”
“One of our active board members, Ty Markham, lives in Torrey, Utah, and was instrumental in having Torrey designated as a dark sky community. She was a founding member of Mormon Environmental Stewards.
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