Proposed State Law Could Put LED Billboard Boat Company Under Water

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The as-yet-unsinkable LED billboard barge that appeared off the coast of Manhattan last year—since earning near universal condemnation from waterfront-loving New Yorkers—may soon find itself the target of a statewide ban.

With just a few days left in the legislative session, the State Senate passed a bill on Thursday that would prohibit digital billboards from operating in New York's navigable waterways while equipped with flashing, intermittent, or moving lights. A companion bill is currently under consideration in the State Assembly, and Governor Andrew Cuomo is reviewing the legislation, according to a senior adviser.

If passed, the law would effectively outlaw the 1,200-square-foot electronic billboard, which currently makes daily voyages around Manhattan and, absent state action, could soon wind up pointed at New York City beaches.

The company has been operating on Miami beaches for last few years, despite outcry from local residents (via Ballyhoo Boats)

"Billboards belong in Times Square—not on the Hudson or East River," Senator Brad Hoylman, who introduced the Senate bill, said in a statement to Gothamist. "They're an eyesore, a hazard, and it's time we ban them outright to restore the integrity of our waterways."

Owned by Miami-based company Ballyhoo Media, the barge has irked city residents and elected officials since arriving in New York last October. But Mayor Bill de Blasio's efforts to clamp down on the floating ads have so far stalled, and the company has vowed to continue operations while a city lawsuit makes its way through a federal court.

Ballyhoo’s argument, thus far, has been that local waterways fall under the jurisdiction of New York state, and thus the city is powerless to stop their lucrative, invasive form of off-shore advertising (the company, whose clients include Heineken and private helicopter services, reportedly receives $55,000 for each 30-second spot it runs on a two-minute loop).

"State legislation is required in order to authorize local legislative bodies to adopt and enforce laws that apply to these bodies of water," wrote Derek Wolman, the attorney representing Ballyhoo, in a letter to a federal judge back in March. "We are aware of no such legislation that would allow the city to apply its Zoning Resolution to these State-owned navigable waters."

Hoylman's bill would appear to do just that. The legislation calls for a blanket ban on digital vessels operating in navigable waters, with the caveat that localities may opt-in to such activity within 1,500 feet of their shores if they so choose. Companies found to be violating the ban would face a misdemeanor charge and $1,000 civil penalty for their first offense, and $5,000 fines for subsequent violations. The law would go into effect within 90 days of passage.

"New Yorkers already see enough advertising in their daily lives," noted Hoylman. "I'm pleased to see this bill pass the Senate, thank Assembly Member Dick Gottfried for his partnership on the issue, and hope to see swift passage through the Legislature."

Neither Ballyhoo's CEO nor the attorney representing the company responded to multiple requests for comment from Gothamist.

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