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Billboards might be flight risk at Martinsburg airport

December 17, 2004|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - A double-decker billboard erected recently on U.S. 11 south of Martinsburg could interfere with the nearby airport's navigational equipment, and lighting on one side of the billboard could distract pilots, airport officials told the Berkeley County Commission on Thursday.

A second billboard, for which only a platform is now in place, also could be hazardous, they said.

Rick Wachtel, chairman of the Eastern West Virginia Regional Airport Authority, and Bill Walkup, the airport manager, attended the meeting, as did several officers with the 167th Airlift Wing of the West Virginia Air National Guard, which shares runways with the civilian airport.

Col. Bill Burkart of the 167th and others said the double-decker billboard is clearly in a Runway Protection Zone, or RPZ, and the billboard that is not fully erected is either on the border of the RPZ or in it.

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"I'll be the first one to tell you, I think they need to come down," said Commissioner Steve Teufel.

County Engineer William "Bucky" Teach said a permit was issued for the double billboard, but the permit said the sign could be no higher than 39 1/2 feet. Teach said he had not measured the sign, but many people at the meeting seemed to believe the billboard is likely taller than the limit. Wachtel said he thinks it is more than 50 feet tall.

If that is the case, the billboard would be in violation of its permit and county officials could demand it be taken down, Norwood Bentley, the commissioners' attorney, said.

That billboard could interfere with antennas that will be relocated once the runway is expanded by 800 feet to accommodate large C-5 military planes, airport officials said.

Nobody affiliated with the double billboard attended the meeting and Teufel said he did not know who owns it.

The commissioners did not take any action, and are instead waiting to hear how tall the billboard is. By 4:30 p.m. Teufel said he had not heard back from Teach on its height.

As for the second billboard that is not fully erected, a lawyer spoke on behalf of Tabler Station Self-Storage LLC. The owner of the self-storage business is erecting the sign on his property to advertise his business, said attorney Georgiana M. Pardo, with Reed Smith, a law firm in Leesburg, Va.

Pardo said her client wants to resolve the matter amicably. The commissioners voted to have Bentley try to resolve the issue, including finding another suitable site for the billboard that is not in the RPZ or on its border.

A building permit for that billboard was issued on Oct. 14 - after amendments to the county's airport ordinance were adopted, including ones dealing with RPZ restrictions.

Teufel, who is on the Planning Commission, said someone in the county's Planning Department erroneously signed off on the building permit.

Pardo said her client spent about $40,000 on the billboard and estimates it will cost $12,000 to move it. Because the self-storage business owner believed he was in compliance with all county laws and obeyed a stop-work order, he should not have to "take one on the chin," Pardo said.

Bentley agreed, saying "some government entity" needs to discuss compensating the billboard owner.

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