BUCKSPORT, Maine — Signs directing traffic to the Penobscot Narrows Bridge Observatory in Prospect were ordered taken down on Monday after a passerby reported the signs to the Maine Department of Transportation.
The large roadside signs were created by Friends of Fort Knox, which took over management of the observatory last spring as part of a deal with the state to manage Fort Knox. The roughly 3-by-5-feet signs feature a photo of the observatory situated atop the bridge support tower and direct the reader to: “Take the elevator ride 400’ up to the bridge observatory, Open every day!”
The signs have been placed at the intersection of Route 15, U.S. Route 1 and the Bucksport-Verona Island bridge and at the scenic lookout on U.S. Route 1 in Prospect for months, according to Leon Seymour, executive director of the Friends. Seymour said the group was unaware that the signs violated Maine’s so-called “billboard law.”
Bob Sinclair, supervisor of right-of-way control for Maine DOT, said the signs are illegal because of where they are located, not because of their size. The law says signs must be located within 1,000 feet of whatever they are advertising.
“It’s no big deal,” Seymour said Monday. “If we can’t put them there, we’ll take them down.”
The signs were reported to Maine DOT by Alan Stearns, former deputy director of Maine’s Bureau of Parks and Lands, which operated Fort Knox and the observatory before the deal with the Friends was inked earlier this year.
“The billboard was blocking safe lines of sight for drivers and pedestrians and bicyclists,” Stearns wrote in an email to the BDN. “There was a quarter-mile traffic backup when I snapped the photo. I hope there were no accidents or injuries caused since the billboard went up. I’m glad the Department of Transportation responded quickly.”
Stearns said he was upset about the privatization of the fort and observatory management, and said in an email that the group was “resorting to illegal billboards to try to make budget.”
“The amateur Friends of Fort Knox need to be watched more closely in the future,” he wrote.
Seymour was quick to point out that unlike the 85 percent of the admission fee to Fort Knox that the Friends keep, the organization does not get any money from the observatory.
“There’s nothing nefarious about it,” he said. “Frankly, we’re trying to help the state because they have to pay for the upkeep of the observatory.”
Sinclair with the Maine DOT also didn’t see any reason for concern. He said on Monday that the DOT routinely receives calls about signs violating the “on-premise rule.”
“Typically, if we think it’s done because no one knew the rules, we just work with them to get the signs removed,” he said. “We like voluntary compliance, and we usually get it.”
Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.