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County officials are once again trying to thread the needle in terms of placating logging interests and the need to maintain the county's dirt roads.
Commissioner Stephen Walker recently broached the subject, with County Coordinator Parrish Barwick contributing his own horror stories. Walker decried that logging operations were continuing despite the recent heavy rainfalls and flooded conditions on many roads, with the results that dirt roads were being torn up.
“We have two roads in my district that will cost about $100,000 each to get them back in the shape they were in a year ago,” Walker said.
Barwick couldn't agree more.
“We spend about $$30,000 to $35,000 a year repairing roads after logging crews,” Barwick said. “If there was a way that we could bill the logging companies, it would help.”
Barwick offered that stabilizing the roads didn't resolve the problem, as it was a temporary solution. A dirt road remained a dirt road, he said, and an 80,000 lbs. truck was going to damage it.
Logging, Walker noted, was a commercial endeavor, and some counties designated it as such. Commercial endeavors, he said, had to take care of their resources or pay a fee. In Jefferson County, however, the dirt roads were a free-for-all, he said.
Walker produced research indicating that the road damage done by a single loaded logging truck was equivalent to 10,000 cars. He asked if an ordinance couldn't be fashioned to protect the roads and the county's interest.
“We're spending a lot of money on unnecessary repairs,” Walker said. “We don't have the resources or the manpower.”
He turned to Planning Attorney Scott Shirley for legal advice.
Shirley said he wasn't legally well versed on the subject. But it was his understanding that certain counties had mechanisms in place that required that logging outfits either restored the damage they did to roads or the counties collected fees for road restoration work.
He offered to research the matter and report his findings to the commission or prepare a draft ordinance for consideration.
Paul Henry, a former Florida Highway Patrol trooper and regular attendee at commission meetings, suggested a permit structure similar to the ones that the Florida Department of Transportation employed. The permit fee, he said, could be commiserate with the cost of the damage.
The board gave Shirley the nod to proceed with his research.
Walker also made clear that his problem wasn't with the agricultural sector. He well understood that property owners had a right to harvest their timber, he said. His aim, he said, wasn't to penalize such persons. The problem, he said, was with commercial companies, most of which were based out-of-county.
The last time that commissioners tackled logging operations and the damage that these operations did to the county's dirt roads several years ago, they got pushback from local property owners as well as the timbering industry, with the result that the board dropped the matter.