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Billboard opponents around the country will be looking to Rapid City for inspiration, a national anti-billboard official said, now that a group of citizens successfully fought for tighter restrictions on off-premise outdoor advertising.

“It presented a truly unique opportunity for the movement nationally to score a big hit in what I call the billboard wars,” said Ossian Or of St. Paul, Minn., a member of the board of directors of Scenic America.

Or was in Rapid City on Tuesday night filming a documentary about how members of the national group’s local affiliate, Scenic Rapid City, pulled off a nearly 2-1 victory on two measures to ban new digital billboards and limit development of new static billboards.

Watching returns come in early in the evening, he said, “Anything more than 60 percent is going to be so decisive it will be hard to ignore.”

Or said a growing number of communities around the country are restricting digital billboards but most are the result of a city council vote, not changes stemming directly from voter initiative.

That’s because the campaigns can be grueling and expensive.

“It’s hard to sustain the effort,” Or said. “People get worn down. It takes an incredibly dedicated group to pull it off.”

Scenic Rapid City members gathered at the West Boulevard area home of Rod and Karen Pettigrew to await election results Tuesday, relaxing with drinks and cake after spending the early evening waving “Vote Yes” signs along busy streets.

Group chairman Jim Petersen toasted the members’ hard work and told them their efforts challenging billboard companies were a bold move.

“I was a leader of Marines in Vietnam,” he said, “and I know what courage is. This is courage.”

Scenic Rapid City formed this spring and circulated petitions to put the measures on the ballot, with members saying they were frustrated at a lack of city government progress to restrict billboards. Members said efforts to reduce billboards go back decades but only this spring did opponents “find” each other and tap into what Petersen called “pent-up demand for change.”

“We had an army of people that pulled together,” president Lisa Modrick said.

Group members said in this recent effort and in the past, they sometimes felt as if their concerns were ignored by elected city officials.

Petersen, who is married to Ward 5 Alderman Bonny Petersen, joked, “I lie in bed some nights, and I roll to my side, and I say to my alderperson, ‘You are on my side, right?’”

He said historic lack of action was the fault of citizens, not aldermen, who he said have dozens of issues to research and vote on each month.

“We didn’t state our case,” he said, or show up at meetings.

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Patricia Pummel, who has been active in other city beautification efforts, said it is an uphill battle to move a cause forward in Rapid City.

“This was astounding to see this happen,” she said.

And she said Tuesday’s victory was not the end of the effort to limit billboards.

“We are not stopping; we are not stopping,” she said. “We are moving forward.”

Aldermen are poised to consider a number of other changes to local sign ordinances proposed by a sign code task force.

Modrick said Scenic Rapid City’s next step is to stand up against any lawsuits filed by billboard companies, which have threatened to challenges the successful measures in court.

“We’ve got an ordinance that needs to get in place and stay in place,” she said.

Contact Barbara Soderlin at barbara.soderlin@rapidcityjournal.com.

 

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