Fire department ordered to remove haunted house signs

PennDOT told the department to remove their signs advertising the haunted house because they could pose a safety risk on state roads

The News-Item

ELYSBURG, Pa. — Volunteer firefighters who often respond to emergencies on state roads have been told by PennDOT to remove their signs advertising a haunted house because the signs are within the state's right-of-way and could pose a safety risk.

Harvey Boyer, president of Elysburg Fire Department, said PennDOT made them take down the recognizable signs, which feature a green skull surrounded by text indicating the time and date of the 39th annual Elysburg Haunted House that benefits the department and Ralpho Fire Company.

"Not only do we spend countless hours of training ... but we also spend a lot of time doing fundraising," Boyer said in a Facebook post that was shared more than 2,100 times Tuesday. "Shame on you PennDOT!"

Boyer's Facebook post also urged people for their continued support of the Haunted House, which will kick-off Oct. 10 at the Valley Gun and Country Club.

Boyer said PennDOT contacted Ralpho Township supervisors last week about the signs located along Route 487 near J&D Campground, Route 54 north and south of Elysburg and at the intersections for state Routes 487 and 54; and 487 and 61.

Boyer said Capt. Eric Haupt met with a PennDOT representative, who told Haupt the signs were within PennDOT's right-of-way. The signs were repositioned, but the next day they were told the signs were "unacceptable" and had to come down.

David Thompson, community relations coordinator for PennDOT District 3-0, said in an email response for comment Tuesday that the signs, and other unrelated signs, were requested by PennDOT to be removed because they were encroachments within the state's right-of-way.

"An encroachment is any object placed without permission within the legal limits of a highway right-of-way," he said. "Such objects are not allowed to be placed in the right-of-way as they could pose a public safety and/or legal liability."

He said objects in the right-of-way may interfere with a driver's view of other traffic, other official traffic signs and could cause drivers to be distracted, all which could result in accidents. Objects are not permitted in the right-of-way, unless it serves an official highway purpose, he added.

Boyer said they have used the signs in question for 10 years and wondered why, after all this time, they would start to enforce the right-of-way.

"We don't want to be above the law, but at the same token, we're putting our lives on the line and are saving taxpayers money by volunteering," Boyer said. "We cut down trees across the (state) roads, we close roads when it's icy, we are there for them (PennDOT) in that regard."

Thompson said policy hasn't changed - signs in the right-of-way have always been prohibited - but 4,500 miles of state roads in the district make it impossible to catch every encroachment.

"PennDOT is also required by federal legislation to control off-premise advertising outside the right-of-way along the interstates and other federal aid routes," Thompson said. "Along these routes, a sign is required to be permitted by PennDOT unless it is on the actual site of the business it is advertising."

He said an option for local organizations looking to advertise upcoming events is to request their municipality to pass a resolution accepting liability for a banner placed within PennDOT's right-of-way, in a specific location, that must first be reviewed by the department.

Boyer said a sign at the entrance to the gun club is allowed to stay. He said many community members have volunteered to let the department put their signs on private property.

"They will go back out in two to three days," Boyer said. "It's a shame that we spend hours and hours training to save lives and we can't put up a sign for a couple of weeks for our biggest fundraiser."

Copyright 2015 The News-Item
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