It is time for another addition of “Things That Tick Me Off”– the category that allows me to regain my composure by venting at annoying things in life. (It is far cheaper than therapy). This week’s winner is water billboards. I am in Ocean City, Maryland to speak on the Supreme Court as part of the Maryland State Bar Association‘s annual meeting. The conference is being held at the Clarion Resort on the beach. I arrive last night and took the kids to the beach. It was an amazing scene with huge waves and blue skies. As we took in the beauty, we were suddenly on confronted by a massive water billboard that moves slowly across the beach front, blocking the view and destroying the enjoyment of the beach. I must confess that this is the first time I have seen one of these monstrosities up close and I was appalled.
When we arrived, my youngest, Madie, asked what the “trucks” were doing on the water. She was pointing to huge signs that looked like floating 18-wheeler trucks passing slowly back and forth in front of the beach. BBi Displays is one company operating in the area. They have been destroying the view since at least 2007.
I do not understand why cities do not prohibit such commercial advertising off their beaches. Ocean City has been notorious for runaway development and a lack of city planning. However, one would think that this business directly undermines the beach experience for everyone. It strikes me as just above graffiti as a business enterprise. I have never like the planes dragging banners across beaches, but I understood that there might not be an easy way to deal with such advertisements (though I make a personal note never to do business with any store that uses the planes on beaches). However, at least you can look out on the ocean and ignore the plane. These water billboards block any view but the advertisement as it slowly moves along.
Unlike a plane, these water billboards also disrupt people who are boating and surfing near shore. The problem is that the objection is admittedly aesthetic for the most part. Aesthetic nuisances are often rejected by courts and that would be a question of a takings with a prohibition. However, cities are given a fair degree of leeway in regulating boating near shore. It would be worth a try and I would hope some local lawyers would volunteer to help the effort to rid the community of these obnoxious floating ads.
Cities like Miami now have these things floating constantly around tourists. One company calls it the “Wow” factor. I called the Ugh factor and makes me less likely to come back to that beach.
Obviously there are people who will do anything to make a buck, including destroying a vacation spot. It is an interesting example of Garrett Hardin’s Tragedy of the Commons, where everyone crowds the air and water with advertisements — killing the very reason people come to the beach. When you add Ocean City’s lack of city planning and limits on development, the result is a downward spiral — the loss of some great beaches.