Effingham County commissioners are expected to take up Tuesday a proposal for a timber operations ordinance.
Commissioners likely won’t enact a rule at their meeting but could discuss further a measure that could alleviate repairs needed to roads damaged through logging operations.
“It’s protection of the county’s assets and protection of those doing the work,” Commissioner Steve Mason said at a recent commissioners’ meeting.
Mason has asked about a possible fee for timber-cutting operations and has cited the number of roads in his district that have been damaged as trucks laden with logs break off asphalt along the edges. Mason has said that some roads have lost a foot to a foot-and-a-half off the shoulder.
Dennis Ansel also asked commissioners to look into the road repairs needed after log trucks traverse county roads, especially dirt roads in inclement weather. Ansel told commissioners that after a recent rainy stretch, the road was in such poor condition his niece got stuck.
“If we needed an ambulance,” he said, “it couldn’t get down there. I’ve lived out there a long time, and that was the worst encounter I’ve had. It’s getting to the point where I think it’s a public safety issue.”
Ansel also urged the “people who are damaging the road need to have a plan ahead of time.”
Under the proposal, timber harvesters would have to ensure proper maintenance of driveways, culverts and driveways, provide a notice of harvesting using a state-approved form, a map of the parcel being cut, access routes to the nearest state route, signage, and post a $5,000 surety bond or letter of credit.
The proposed ordinance carries a penalty of $500 for the first offense and $1,000 fine for further violations.
A state law enacted in 2002 allows counties to require bonds from timber harvesters and to be notified of timber cutting in order to collect timber taxes. It does not call for counties to require a permit for timber harvesting, according to the Warnell School of Forest Resources.
Research by the county staff shows that several counties have some type of notification or bond, including Bulloch and Screven counties. The county also could use the state law to enforce collection of damages to roads from logging operations or other commercial activity through the court system.
There also have been complaints about heavy trucks using county roads as shortcuts, and that practice also is damaging roads, according to the complaints.
“We need to stop these 18-wheelers from traveling on county roads,” Greg Jaudon told commissioners. “We need some signs put up to stop these trucks. We have had several accidents because of the pot holes, and the foundation under the road was not built for this kind of traffic.”
Mason said the state Department of Transportation can’t write a citation for a vehicle exceeding a road’s weight limit unless that limit is posted.
“Our best choice is to put a through truck traffic designation on some of these roads,” Mason said. “We have to determine which roads we’re going to put those limits.”
Once signs with weight limits are posted, those limits can be enforced, Mason added.
“Until we put some teeth in it, there’s not much we can do,” he said.
County staff suggested classifying roads to include certain weight limits or through truck traffic.