Effingham County commissioners will take a month to determine how they want to shape an ordinance regulating timber harvesting in the county.
Commissioners are looking for a way to repair roads damaged by logging operations or curtail those operations if they are deemed to be making the roads impassable.
"We need to give the sheriff some teeth for closing the roads," said Commissioner Steve Mason.
Mason said the biggest problems with loggers tearing up roads isn’t coming from local timber harvesters but rather from out-of-state loggers.
"Most of the guys who work in the county all know what to do, and they’re doing it," he said.
Mason and Chairman Wendall Kessler also said a timber ordinance could enforce that all loggers are paying the timber tax.
"The ordinance will make people register so you’re assured people will pay the timber tax," Kessler said. "I’m sure we have not collected all the timber tax."
Under the draft commissioners likely will review again at their second June meeting, loggers must notify the county at least 48 hours in advance of when and where they will cut timber.
There is also a provision for a $5,000 surety bond or a letter of credit for the same amount. Kessler said that is no different than having to put up a bond when building a road in a housing development.
"This is common business," he said.
The third draft also calls for a $500 fine for each violation, and fines can rise to $1,000 for each additional citation after the original issuance. Under the draft, the public works director, in consultation with the county administrator and the sheriff, can issue a road ban if that road is considered to be either unsafe or impassable as a result of timber cutting operations.
"It best protects the roads in this county," Kessler said. "It gives the sheriff the vehicle to close roads if necessary for violations."
Said Mason: "We’re protecting our assets."
The second and third drafts of the ordinance do have differences. The second draft does not have the surety bond requirements, nor does it have provisions for reimbursements for clean up, damage and nuisance.
"The first draft was overwhelming," Mason said.
County director of community relations Adam Kobek said neighboring counties all have some sort of logging operations ordinance. Some only require notification that timber harvesting is about to commence but other counties, Liberty and McIntosh, have more requirements along the lines of the first and third draft ordinances presented to Effingham commissioners.
"I don’t want to make it overwhelming," Mason said.
Mason added loggers he has talked to said the $5,000 bond to put up was common and they didn’t have a problem with it. He added most loggers have no problem complying with a proposed ordinance. But the problems are greater and more prevalent on the north end of the county, he said.
"There’s need to be a point where the sheriff’s office can say ‘this road is impassable,’" Mason said. "’You either keep it passable with some sort of equipment or shut down your operation.’"
Mason said the draft ordinances would not prohibit any operator from coming into the county to conduct timber harvesting.
"It does certain things to protect the county," he said.
Kobek said there are ways to go after loggers who damage roads through the court system, but county attorney Eric Gotwalt said that is difficult to enforce.
Commissioners sent back the original draft, presented in March, and Commissioner Reggie Loper asked Kobek to ask more loggers in the county for their input and suggestions.
"If you get their input, you can change this because they’re the ones who do this every day," he said.