Pauline Nelson says she is just trying to advertise her business — an antique shop and RV park that overlooks the junction of highways 4 and 4A — but it’s cost her a few signs and some patience with area road crews.
“I’ve had signs made for the hillside, all designed to look like others around here that are the same size,” she said.
Yet, as soon as she places them outside, they are removed by employees of Emcon Road Services, the area’s highway maintenance contractor.
Nelson said she’s a small business, trying to survive, and although she knows there are rules regarding sign placement, she wonders why those rules aren’t being applied to everyone.
“Why the double standard? Especially with the Coombs store.”
Simply put, said Emcon’s road supervisor Oliver Watson, Nelson just doesn’t have permission to put up her signs on highway right-of-ways.
And that means it doesn’t matter how well the signs are made or if they comply with Ministry of Transportation specifications — they will be removed.
“There are ways of getting permission,” Watson said, noting the closest ministry office is in Nanaimo.
According to ministry information, permits for service and attraction signs by the highways are common — yet those for advertising are not allowed. Private property is another matter, as the ministry nor Emcon regulate signs there.
Watson said Emcon pulled up 100 signs last week alone — not just those of Nelson.
“We are picking up signs regularly, but they somehow keep popping back up.”
The illegal signs, Watson continued, can sometimes disrupt drivers’ vision, prevent vehicles from pulling over or even pose a hazard in a crash. It’s for these reasons that highway right-of-ways are generally off limits. So, Watson said, crews are out all year looking for illegal signs and pulling them up.
Signs are a large part of Emcon’s job in this district, Watson explained.
“With Highways’-approved signs, this is the biggest inventory on the Island,” he said. “And it’s not just business signs but highway delineators (those white posts on the side of the road between Qualicum Beach and Port Alberni, for instance).
“There are 500-plus of those white tabs.”
As for the Coombs store and signage that appears to encroach on the highway right-of-way around the Coombs Country Market, both Watson and a ministry spokesperson indicated that condition has existed for years. They noted the right-of-way there is very narrow.
“The guard rail in front of the goats on the roof? That’s within inches of the right-of-way,” said Watson. “So signs there would be on private property.”