School board denies oil billboard

By BUSTER WOLFE,

The company building a billboard on U.S. Hwy. 11 located on 16th Section Lands was denied a permit by the Lamar County School District’s Board of Trustees at its meeting Monday night in Purvis. School Board members expect the issue to come before a judge to be decided.

The request from Mississippi Oil to finish the 10 foot, 6 inch-by-22 foot sign was denied after discussion on the difference between a license and a lease in using billboards, safety concerns with the lighting and an earlier denial for Lamar Advertising to build a billboard across the highway.

Because both billboards are inside the Hattiesburg city limits, both sign company owners received permits from the city. However, Mississippi Oil – which was licensing the content of the billboard to Busby Signs – began building its sign before getting permission from the Lamar County School Board because it is on 16th Section Lands, which is regulated by local school districts and the Mississippi Secretary of State’s Office.

Mississippi Oil had proposed in an Aug. 11 letter that it would pay $1,000 in additional rental fee over their lease and would provide the board with advertising space for four events per year.

Board President Buddy Morris safety is his main concern.

“This is my whole thing,” he said. “It’s not about the $1,000 a year, but it’s about making sure that this very fast-growing area is safe. That’s why we turned down Lamar. We want to make sure the brightness of your digital signs doesn’t hinder traffic or cause accidents. That’s my issue.”

After more discussion, Board member Mike Pruitt made a motion that the permit be approved with Busby Signs and Mississippi Oil with the licensing agreement, and that Lamar Advertising be allowed by build its sign across the road.

Morris said he thought the issue should be decided at a higher level.

“As it sits, I believe the Board has an obligation to take this another step to another court because of the safety issue,” he said after Pruitt’s motion.

However, Board member Deborah Pierce said Hattiesburg would not approve the two signs because they would be within 1,000 feet of each other in violation of city codes.

After Pruitt’s motion to approve both signs died for lack of a second, he later proposed denying the Busby Signs permit.

“I make a motion that we deny the Busby sign for leasing application,” he said. “It will force us to go to court probably. But for the reason that we have turned someone down previously without this level of investigation and by submitting after the fact, it squeezes the original petitioner out, in my opinion, inappropriately.”

Other Board members added the distance between proposed signs, the safety issue with the signs and other factors should be included on the record for denial of the sign permit.

The Board unanimously approved the motion. The next meeting of the Lamar County School Board will be at 6 p.m. Sept. 7 at the Oak Grove High School library.