A hearings officer has ordered eight billboards along the highway to the western entrance of Glacier National Park removed because U.S. Highway 2 has been designated a scenic highway.
The decision gives the owners 30 days to take down the signs. However, the decision still must be affirmed by the Montana Transportation Commission and can be appealed to District Court.
“As long as we have pending litigation, we won’t be tearing down any signs,” said Rich Munger, outdoor sign coordinator for the department.
The case involves signs between Hungry Horse and West Glacier advertising Great Northern Whitewater Rafting, Glacier Photo Labs, Sundance Campground, Glacier Raft Co. and Montana Fur Trading.
All got permits for the billboards between 1984 and 1988. But in 1988, the Transportation Department decided it had issued the permits in error and that the signs violated a 1975 scenic-area resolution by the Montana Highway Commission.
The commission, to keep views from being spoiled by overhead power lines, had declared the highway a “scenic enhancement area” in 1975. State law forbids outdoor advertising within 500 feet of scenic highways.
Dan Johns, attorney for Glacier Photo Labs, argued during the hearing that the commission did not have the authority to pass a scenic resolution. Hearings officer James Scheier disagreed, citing the commission’s broad powers on other issues.
The proposed order now will be scheduled for a regular meeting of the Transportation Commission, said Munger. The session will include another chance for oral arguments and written briefs, he said.
Once the commission makes its decision, the case still can be appealed though the legal system.