Thursday, January 21, 2010
Road damage rankles board
By SUE WATSON
The board of supervisors passed a moratorium Tuesday on hauling of any agricultural, timber or mining type products on county roads, from January 19 until March 1.
Gross weight limit of vehicles during the moratorium was set at five tons for single axle trucks and 10 tons for tandem axle.
This moratorium excludes garbage trucks, school buses, emergency vehicles and service vehicles. It was set for the purpose of preserving county roads during the winter’s cold weather conditions, according to the board.
Supervisors, in an earlier January meeting, had rehashed problems where loggers/haulers have damaged county roads and voted to seek recovery of road repair expenses allegedly caused by haulers on Bubba Taylor Road and Levi Bell Road.
It is the number of pounds on the logging truck, the weather and the number of loads coming out of a field that all add up to crumbling of county paved roads not built to handle heavy loads, supervisors said.
The main concern about the road damages is that it costs the taxpayers more millage to repair roads oftentimes than the timber is worth, they said. The damage to Bubba Taylor Road in December was estimated to run up to $8,000 to repair while the tax the tree farmer pays 20 years on such land at a rate of $6 an acre is not enough to recover the damages, said supervisor Keith Taylor, who made a motion to seek relief for the county through the courts.
In the case of the tree farmer on Bubba Taylor Road, Taylor said the landowner would at most pay $150 a year in taxes and for 20 years - the time it takes a pine tree to mature - the farmer would pay only $3,000 in taxes, he said. That would come to less than half what it is estimated to cost the county for repairs to stabilize the road.
Several concerns surfaced during the discussion of road damages from haulers, particularly in winter months, one of which is that the damages often are to newly paved roads that serve subdivisions as well as farmlands.
Bubba Taylor Road was paved just a couple of years ago, Taylor lamented.
The logger in the recent incident on Bubba Taylor Road discontinued hauling after seeing the extent of the road damage.
But many loggers are going to work without following the ordinances set up to protect the roads which includes getting a preferred route and permit from the county road manager.
Supervisor George Zinn III said he is amazed how haulers will come before the board and promise to repair any damage to roads but after the work is finished they leave without keeping their word.
Supervisors entered an agreement with tree farmers last year in which the county waived a requirement that haulers post bond for any potential damage they may cause to a road, particularly the areas where trucks enter and leave the field.
Hauling on gravel roads has not been an issue because repairing gravel roads is not expensive compared to paved ones, according to Ronnie Joe Bennett, supervisor in District 5 which has lots of gravel roads.
Zinn argued that loggers should sign papers before logging begins, saying they will pay for road repairs.
Supervisors also discussed placing a moratorium on hauling logs on county roads during winter months.
Board attorney Kent Smith said he is confident the board has authority to impose a moratorium and also the authority to sue for damages and regulate traffic if trucks are tearing up the roads with the laws already on the books.
Bennett voiced concern.
“The timber haulers in Marshall County will throw a fit because they get more money for timber in winter,” he said.
County administrator Larry Hall urged that haulers not be permitted to bring out loads during freezing weather.
“Roads will tear all to pieces,” he said.
Bennett thought the solution will fall upon three entities, the landowner, the timber cutter and the county taxpayer. He wants the three to work together.
“In all fairness, we are just asking for a moratorium for two months out of 12,” said Zinn.
Bennett suggested haulers will cut timber outside Marshall County during a moratorium and not lose work.
Smith suggested the board could put a moratorium on the weight limit during winter months instead of hauling in general.
He said once a moratorium is set, the county would be sued because the law does not address the issue of requiring haulers to post bond or the issue of a moratorium.
“If we don’t take action, we are not doing our job,” said Taylor.
Supervisor Willie Flemon said if the industry doesn’t like the county seeking relief, the supervisors stand a chance of getting thrown out of office come the next election.
Smith said the tree farmer and haulers will get the message to follow the rules once the county sues the first hauler.
With that, supervisors passed a motion by Taylor to sue to recover costs of repairing Bubba Taylor Road and passed a motion by Zinn to sue for damages from a hauler who allegedly damaged Levi Bell Road.
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