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Chapter 672-14 GRANTING, RENEWAL, AND REVOCATION OF VEGETATION MANAGEMENT PERMITS FOR OUTDOOR ADVERTISING

Rule 672-14-.01 Purpose of Regulations

(1) Through the adoption of these rules, the State Transportation Board recognizes the need to balance the interests of maintaining the beauty of the State and a healthy environment for its citizens with the need to provide the citizens of the state and the traveling public with adequate information regarding places offering lodging, food, motor fuels services or any other service or products along the roads and highways of the State by allowing for the visibility of outdoor advertising signs erected and maintained along the highways of the state.
(2) The Department is authorized to promulgate specifications and guidelines to govern the Department's implementation of the provisions of this Chapter, and to set forth these specifications and guidelines in the Department's Manual of Guidance entitled "Vegetation Management at Outdoor Advertising Signs." Copies of these guidelines shall be provided to applicants upon written request to the Department's Office of Maintenance, 600 West Peachtree Street, N. W., One Georgia Center, 10th Floor, Atlanta, GA 30308.

Rule 672-14-.02 Definitions

The following words when used in Chapter 672-14 shall have the following meanings unless the context thereof indicates another meaning:

(a) "Advertising Message": Any notice using symbols, pictures, numbers, words, or combination thereof designed to attract public attention or patronage.
(b) "Expired" or "Lapsed" Permits or Revisions: Is a properly issued permit or revision which is no longer valid because it's conditions have not been completed or revised within the applicable time frame. This includes failure to pay any applicable fees. Permits which have expired solely as a result of failure to pay fees may be referred to as lapsed for purposes of O.C.G.A. § 32-6-75.3(j) and State Transportation Board Rules 672-14-.02.
(c) "Viewing zone": A continuous 500 foot horizontal distance parallel to the state right of way of a route controlled by O.C.G.A. § Section 32-6-70,et seq., and adjacent or otherwise within the line of sight of an outdoor advertising sign.
(d) "Vegetation": Woody or herbaceous plant material growing from the ground or planted.
(e) "Vegetation Management": All planned work activities relating to landscape and roadside development on public right of way. These activities may include the removal, cutting or trimming of trees or other vegetation, landscape planting, construction and any maintenance management of their related features.

Rule 672-14-.03 Application for a Vegetation Management Permit

(1) Any person, firm, or corporation with a conforming or nonconforming sign that has been legally permitted and erected, and maintained adjacent to the rights-of-way of the Interstate and Primary Highway Systems, may apply for a vegetation management permit for relief from a screened view.
(2) All applications, and the renewal thereof, shall be made by the person, firm or corporation holding the permit for the subject outdoor advertising sign and structure on forms prescribed by the Department. Advice, necessary forms and assistance may be obtained from the General Office or a District Office of the Department.
(3) Application(s) shall be submitted to the local District Outdoor Advertising Agent or designee in the Department.
(4) No person or entity may cut, trim, or remove trees, shrubs, or herbaceous plants on public rights of way to make visible or to ensure future visibility of an outdoor advertising sign without first obtaining a Permit for Vegetation Management at Outdoor Advertising Sign(s).
(5) No person or entity may cut, trim, or remove trees, shrubs, or herbaceous plants on public rights of way to make visible or to ensure future visibility of an outdoor advertising sign within areas of a viewing zone containing wetlands or buffers of state waters notwithstanding any provision of the Georgia Erosion and Sedimentation Act (O.C.G.A. § 12-7-3, et. seq.) and the Georgia Coastal Marshlands Act (O.C.G.A. § 12-5-280, et seq.).
(6) Ground restoration in disturbed areas on both mowable and non-mowable slopes where there is any vegetation management activity requires permanent grassing as a vegetative measure for an erosion control best management practice for slope stabilization, according to the Georgia Erosion and Sedimentation Act (O.C.G.A. § 12-7-3, et. seq.).
(7) The application shall contain at a minimum:
(a) The name, address, email address, and telephone number of the applicant, the name of the property owner, the Department sign permit number, and the notarized signature of the applicant's authorized representative. It shall also contain the height of the sign as measured from the base of the sign or crown of the adjacent roadway (whichever is greater),
(b) Evidence of the payment of a bond with sureties acceptable to the Department to run concurrently with the permit and the lowering of the sign if applicable.
(c) A copy of a W-9 that matches the name and address provided on the application.
(8) Proof of liability insurance as required.
(9) No Permit for Vegetation Management at Outdoor Advertising Signs will be issued:
(a) For applications that are incomplete.
(b) Notwithstanding any provision of the Georgia Outdoor Advertising Control Act to the contrary, to cut, trim, or remove trees, shrubs, or herbaceous plants that are protected by federal or state law.
(c) To remove trees, shrubs, or herbaceous plants where such trees or other vegetation are determined by the Department's Landscape Architect Manager or designee to be part of a permitted beautification project planted prior to the vegetation management permit.

Permitted beautification projects are:

(1) where the beautification project is specifically identified in the Department's construction or landscape plans; or
(2) permitted landscape projects pursuant to special encroachment permits; or
(3) permitted landscape projects pursuant to written agreements with third parties which identify the project or vegetation to be planted; or
(4) vegetation which was planted by the Department; or
(5) any other project that is determined by the Department's Landscape Architect Manager, based on the totality of the circumstances, to have been planted with Departmental approval but which plans or documents may no longer be available.
(d) To remove trees determined by the Department to be landmark, historic, or specimen trees.
(e) For outdoor advertising signs permitted or assigned a working number by the Department after December 31, 2010, for a period of five years from the date a new sign is permitted so as to ensure that no vegetation maintenance permits are issued for the purpose of creating new outdoor advertising signs.
(f) For any application which does not conform to the provisions of O.C.G.A. § 32-6-70,et seq.
(g) For any signs which exceed 75 feet in height, as measured from the base of the sign or crown of the adjacent roadway to which the sign is permitted, whichever is higher, unless the sign owner agrees to reduce the height of the sign.
(h) For any person, firm, or entity which the Department determines is maintaining or is allowing to be maintained any abandoned sign or signs within the State of Georgia.
(10) The initial Permit for Vegetation Management at Outdoor Advertising Sign is valid for the term of one (1) year in accordance with the approved Vegetation Management Plan.

Rule 672-14-.04 Requirements for Issuance of Approved Vegetation Management Permit

Upon submittal of an application with appropriate fees and vegetation management plan, the Department will determine if the sign permit is current, with no pending violations and meets the requirements of Georgia law.

(a) If the Department determines that the sign permit is not current, has pending violations, or the sign does not qualify for a Vegetation Management Permit, the Vegetation Management Permit will be denied.
(b) If the Department determines that the sign permit and location is in good standing, and all other legal requirements and conditions have been met, a Vegetation Management Permit may be granted.

Rule 672-14-.05 Conditions Governing a Vegetation Management Permit

(1) The Vegetation Management Permit authorizes one or more of the following actions:
(a) Vegetation within the viewing zone shall be selectively removed, pruned or trimmed, in accordance with good landscaping practices pursuant to O.C.G.A. §32-6-75.3 and all requirements set forth in the Department's Manual of Guidance, to allow viewing within the defined viewing zone.
(2) The Department shall:
(a) Require that the Permittee furnish the Department with a certificate indicating that the work has been completed in accordance with the Department's standards and Manual of Guidance. Upon receipt of such certificate, the District Engineer or designee will inspect the work site. If all work provided for and contemplated by the vegetation management plans as approved by the Department is found to be satisfactorily completed, the Department will notify the applicant in writing of such acceptance.
(b) Evaluate each application for a permit and require that as a condition of granting any permit a Contributory Value fee be paid. The Contributory Value fee shall be the Department's appraised value of the trees or other vegetation to be trimmed or removed within the viewing zone. A credit voucher representing the Department's determination of the dollar value of the benefit to the State for certified removal of expired-permit signs and legally-permitted non-conforming signs by the applicant may be used to offset the Contributory Value fee.
(3) The Permittee shall furnish the Department a performance and payment bond commensurate to ensure the completion of the project in the form of a certified check, cashiers' check or bank money order or a performance and payment bond on forms with sureties acceptable to the Department which will be required to run concurrently with the permit. Such bonds shall be subject to forfeiture to the Department in the event of a violation of these regulations or upon failure of the applicant to leave the work site in a condition acceptable to the Department.
(4) The Permittee shall hold the Department harmless against any and all loss, cost, damage, claim, expense of liability whatsoever because of accident or injury to persons or property of others occurring in connection with the performance of services under this Contract.
(5) The applicant, its agents, servants, officers, employees and contractors are required to meet all current GDOT minimum coverages for commercial general liability insurance, commercial automobile insurance, and worker's compensation insurance. A Certificate of Insurance demonstrating proof of these coverage's and naming the State of Georgia as an additional insured must be received by the Department prior to any work being performed at the Viewing Zone site:
(6) All drivers of project equipment must possess a valid license for the type of vehicle being driven.
(7) The Department is authorized to promulgate specifications and guidelines to govern the Department's implementation of the provisions of this Chapter, and to set forth these specifications and guidelines in the Department's Manual of Guidance. Copies of these guidelines shall be provided to applicants upon written request to the Department's Office of Maintenance, 600 West Peachtree Street, N.W., One Georgia Center 10th Floor, Atlanta, GA 30308.
(8) A release of the applicant's bond is contingent on the applicant's providing the Department with six electronic photographs clearly depicting the completed vegetation management activity within the viewing zone. For signs that must be lowered, verification that the sign has been lowered to 75 feet or less, as measured from the base of the sign or crown of the adjacent roadway to which the sign is permitted, whichever is higher, must be provided from a licensed, Professional Engineer or licensed Land Surveyor.

Rule 672-14-.06 Fees and Renewal of a Vegetation Management Permit

(1) The permit fees cover the direct and indirect costs associated with the administration of the permit and inspection of the site, and are due in the following amounts:

Application Review and Permit fee $ 400.00

Annual Renewal fee $ 50.00

(2) An annual renewal fee shall continue to be due each first of September, beginning the year following issuance of the permit. Notice of late renewals shall be sent by certified mail. If renewal fees are not received within 45 days of the late renewal notice, the permit shall be cancelled. Additional cutting, trimming, or removal of vegetation greater than 4 inches in diameter within a viewing zone after the initial permit construction activity and bond release is not allowed within the Target View Zone. Maintenance activities may continue within the permitted viewing zone as long as renewals are up to date.
(3) The Target View Zone for a sign is established by the initial vegetation management permit. The Target View Zone may not be modified by any subsequent vegetation management permit. A successive vegetation management permit may only be issued for a location if all past due renewal fees for previous permits have been paid prior to the issuance of the new vegetation management permit for the location.

Rule 672-14-.07 Invalid or Revocation of a Vegetation Management Permit

Failure to comply with these rules and regulations or the Department's Manual of Guidance after notification may result in immediate suspension or revocation of the vegetation management permit on file, forfeiture of bonds or permanent denial of any future vegetation management permit or permit renewal for the sign and site involved in the infraction. Work performed on the Department's right-of-way without a permit shall be considered a failure to comply and is punishable as provided in O.C.G.A. § 32-6-81, and shall be subject to the procedures set forth in section O.C.G.A. § 32-6-95.

Rule 672-14-.08 Failure to Comply with Guidelines - Unauthorized Cutting, Trimming or Removal of Vegetation

The Department shall have the right to terminate the Permit by giving thirty (30) days notice in writing of the termination and date of such termination to permittee if the permittee fails to perform or violates any of the terms, conditions or provisions of the Vegetation Management at Outdoor Advertising Sign(s) Permit or fails to maintain the designated Target View Zone in a reasonable manner. The Department shall also have the right to refuse to process any new Vegetation Management permit applications submitted by a person or entity with an unresolved or alleged violation of the rules and regulations or the Department's Manual of Guidance,

Rule 672-14-.09 Safety

Any work performed within the limits of the Department's right-of-way shall be done in accordance with the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices and other applicable Department safety guidelines. Nothing in this rule shall be construed to give permission to service sign structures from the Department's right of way. Vegetation management activity shall take place from the road shoulder.

Rule 672-14-.10 Hearings and Appeals

In the event an applicant wishes to appeal the denial of their application, or revocation or non-renewal of their Vegetation Management permit, the provisions of Chapter 13 of Title 50, the "Georgia Administrative Procedure Act," shall apply.