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County approves first reading of logging ordinance
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After four drafts and a split vote, Effingham County commissioners approved the first reading of a timber operations ordinance.

By a 3-2 vote, commissioners took a step in enacting new regulations for loggers in the county. The ordinance does not include a surety bond, which timber cutters had lobbied against, and does not require a notice of 48 hours before beginning operations.

“The whole idea was to have a benchmark,” said Commissioner Steve Mason.

The ordinance also calls for notices to be submitted to the public works department, and notices will be valid as soon as timber cutters post them. The ordinance also does not call for driveway requirements.

“We don’t want to make it burdensome on anyone,” Mason said. “We don’t want to make it burdensome on the loggers. We don’t want to make it burdensome on our staff.”

“They don’t have a problem with the rules and procedures,” county community relations director Adam Kobek said of loggers who were asked for input on the ordinance. "They just don’t want it to be onerous."

Permits are free, and the county will use the state form for timber operations. Once the permit is granted, the public works department will inspect the access points to the tract where the timber is to be cut within 24 hours.

“My concern is with the timing of it,” said interim county administrator Toss Allen. “As it is written, someone has to inspect within 24 hours.”

Mason said the road damage — which was the primary reason for the logging ordinance — is occurring at the access points.

“They’re tearing the roads up,” Chairman Wendall Kessler said.

Mason said the benefit of the ordinance outweighs the extra effort that may be needed from the public works department, since the county would save money on fixing the roads.

The ordinance also includes penalties on timber operations that spread mud, dirt or debris on county roads, rights-of-way or drainage and those that damage county roads. Each violation of the ordinance is subject to a $500 fine, and the county has the capability to shut down a road if it is no longer usable because of a logging operation.

Mason said the ordinance gives “the sheriff some teeth to say you’ve got to stop because you’re making this road impassable.”

Loggers also will have to set up an orange sign 500 feet in each direction from the entrance to their cutting to notify motorists of the timber harvesting.

Once a timber harvest notice is completed, the public works department will send a copy of the permit to the tax commissioner and tax assessor, in an effort to ensure any timber tax is recorded properly.

But Commissioner Phil Kieffer, who along with Commissioner Vera Jones voted against the motion to approve the ordinance, questioned if the new rules would stop problem loggers who cut tracts of timber without recording a timber tax.

“If they make the blacklist, is that going to stop them from cutting a quick tract?” he asked.

Commissioners will have a second reading of the ordinance at their July 23 meeting.