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County to take another cut at logging ordinance

POSTED: July 8, 2013 7:13 p.m.

A timber harvesting ordinance could be closer to being logged into Effingham County books.


Commissioners have been pondering a timber harvesting ordinance that would require loggers to give the county notice when and where they intend to cut timber, in an effort to prevent damage to county roads. The ordinance also could allow the county to collect timber tax it might not be recouping.


“We’ve had a lot of problems, especially on the northern end,” said Commissioner Steve Mason, whose district encompasses the entire northern half of the county. “This is about protecting the county’s assets. We don’t have the money to work on the roads like I wished we did.”


Said Chairman Wendall Kessler: “I don’t think anyone wants more regulations and more government. Sometimes, in order to protect the county’s assets, it becomes necessary and I think that is where this has gotten us.”


Mason has proposed a timber-cutting ordinance, at the suggestion of local loggers. Most loggers are carrying out their work without damaging county roads, Mason pointed out. But some aren’t, and then it becomes a county expense to repair the damaged roads. Laden log trucks don’t have enough room to turn onto the county-maintained roads and as a result, they break off the road’s edges.


Some loggers told commissioners at their June 18 meeting they supported measures to protect the county’s roads, though there were revisions they would like to see in the draft ordinance.


“I think this will give the teeth to stop loggers if they are doing wrong,” said Dave Burns of D.G. Burns. “I don’t want anyone to think we’re opposed to an ordinance. We agree it’s not fair for taxpayers to pay for damages created by someone else.”


Jim Donnell of Savannah River Timber said the biggest problems result from loggers coming in from other counties.


“We live here,” he said. “We have to face people every day.”


Burns, who runs timber-cutting operations in several counties, said Screven County’s ordinance is fair. He also said Effingham could deny granting additional permits to loggers who damage county roads without repairing them.


“That will get the point across,” he said.


But some provisions in the proposed ordinance, particularly the requirement for a surety bond, were not endorsed.


“We’re very concerned about the bond, especially with the ash roads,” Burns said. “I don’t think it’s fair to be bonded on the ash roads. They’re substandard.”


Said Donnell: “I have no problems with permits. The bonds are a different story.”


Mason acknowledged the county’s long-standing problems with many of its ash roads.


“I wise we didn’t even have the ash roads to discuss this,” he said.


Mason echoed Donnell’s thoughts on out-of-county loggers cutting a tract and leaving, creating and not repairing road damage and without recording any timber tax. The ordinance, he said, is a way to make someone responsible for damage done to county roads.


“The problem is with other loggers who come in and abuse the right-of-way and leave,” he said. “Some smaller loggers cut a tract and never turn it in and no timber tax is collected.”


Under a draft of a timber-cutting ordinance, loggers will provide the tax commissioners’ office a notice of their operations at least 48 hours prior to harvesting, along with a map of the area and if the timber will be sold. That condition also raised concerns from timber cutters.


“The 48 hours will really put a burden on loggers,” Sherry Neidlinger told commissioners. “Sometimes it’s just a 12-hour turnaround before you know where you’re going.”


Donnell pointed out that logging is at the whim of the weather, and he may not know until several hours beforehand where a crew can cut timber.


“In this weather, I might have to move somebody,” he said.


From 2008-13, the value of timber on the county’s tax digest was between $6.7 million and $8.8 million, except for 2011, when values plummeted to $2.9 million.


There also was opposition to the ordinance in its entirety.


“I think it’s a growth of government,” said Steve Collins. “I see it as zero benefit to the Effingham County taxpayers. I think it’s going to cost the taxpayers to enforce an ordinance that isn’t needed.”


Still others want to see something done to fix roads marred and made difficult to traverse through logging operations. Dennis Ansel, who brought his concerns about the road on which he lives being damaged from log trucks, told commissioners he wanted the county to have the authority to stop somebody from disrupting the roads. Mason said Old Louisville Road, where Ansel lives, was made virtually impassable by loggers not being conscientious of the road.

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