Scenic America, an advocacy group that works to enhance the visual character of America’s roadways, presented the Town of Middletown an award Thursday evening for the removal of East Main Road billboards last Fall.
In what Scenic America board member Ronald Fleming described as a “a profile of courage” to stand up to a political struggle, he congratulated Middletown Town Council President Christopher Semonelli for his commitment to preserve Middletown’s scenic character.
In a 2009 resolution, the council cited legal restrictions that would prevent the town from evicting the billboard company at that time. Although the billboards were scheduled to come down when the lease expired in November of 2012, Middletown Town Councilors Paul Rodrigues and Robert Sylvia spoke up against the decision as part of their campaign.
“We have numerous residents who are scraping pennies in order to keep their homes,” wrote the candidates in a letter to the editor. The town received $42,500 annually in rental payments for the billboards.
“There is a lot of math that is done when you are talking about chump change," said Mary Tracy, president of Scenic America. “Those of us in the scenic movement have to be pretty good at math, otherwise they can convince other lawmakers this isn’t such a good idea because of economics.”
In a 4-2 vote, council approved to let
the contract expire and remove the billboards.
“There were three others that formed the majority in the vote,” said Semonelli as he accepted the award. “It looks so much more beautiful. Now there isn’t a billboard, there is a beautiful trail that leads off to the forests.”
Watch the attached video for clips of Semonelli receiving the award.