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County Board Acts to Oppose SB 396 (S-5)
Forester Frost Law Bill Heats Up Citizen, Governance Response

 

By Dianne Alward-Biery
Cleaver Staff Writer

COPYRIGHT Clare County Cleaver

HARRISON – Much turmoil has been wrought by Senate Bill 396 (S-5) which was passed and reported out the State Transportation Committee Sept. 6. This bill sponsored by Tom Casperson would exempt the forestry product industry from seasonal weight restrictions. It also would allow hauling of forestry products and transport of equipment on public roadways without obtaining proper permits from road authorities at all times of the year. Unrestricted 164,000-pound loads applied to soft county roads, whether paved or gravel, has been determined by analysis would result in a safety hazard to other drivers, as well as costs to the county far in excess of what the bill would allow the forestry business to be assessed for road damage. An impact statement issued Sept. 13 by fiscal analyst Michael Siracuse listed the many costs which would be borne by local entities, stating “The bill could have a minor negative financial impact on the Department of Transportation.”

Road Bill

The fiscal analysis report also noted the bill would exempt width, height, weight and combination restrictions for vehicles transporting forest products on county roads, as well as exempt an oversized vehicle’s owner from liability if such a vehicle, while transporting forestry products on a county road, collided with and damaged a lawfully-established bridge or viaduct. The cost for bridge/viaduct repair would likely be borne by the county in which the structure was located, not the Department of Transportation.

Of particular note was Siracuse’s finding that while the bill does allow county commissions to require a $2,000 bond per mile traveled, it does not include language outlining the consequences for nonpayment of that bond.

This topic came up at the Nov. 20 Hayes Township Board meeting, where supervisor Terry Acton said Casperson was trying to push through SB 396 prior to his end of term Dec. 31 of this year. He also implied that Casperson had a personal interest and benefit to be realized, stating his family has a history of involvement in the forestry business.

Deepak Gupta, Clare County Road Commission engineer manager, had sent a copy of a suggested resolution opposing the bill to all the county’s townships and municipalities Nov. 8, urging passage of same, and also that they contact State Representative Jason Wentworth (JasonWentworth@house.mi.gov) and State Senator Judy Emmons (senjemmons@senate.michigan.gov) to voice opposition to the bill. His letter also stated “Many of the state’s representatives and senators are term limited and could choose not to protect the roads. Almost all of the Upper Peninsula and Northern Michigan counties and townships have already passed this resolution.”

At the Nov. 21 Clare County Board of Commissioners meeting, the Board had before it a resolution in opposition to SB 396 and County Administrator Tracy Byard explained to the Board the various aspects of the resolution prior to discussion and the commissioners’ unanimous vote in support. The Clare County Resolution No. 18-20 on Senate Bill 396 states:

“Whereas, roads are the backbone of the social, cultural and economic stability of Clare County and our region, which make significant annual contributions to preservation, maintenance and other activities on the local road system; and

Whereas, Senate Bill (SB) 396 (S-5) passed and reported out of the Senate Transportation Committee on Sept. 6, 2018, allows exemptions from seasonal weight restrictions (also known as “frost laws”) to the forest product industry during the spring thaw when roads are the most vulnerable to damage from heavy loads; and

Whereas, it is a fact in Clare County and throughout all Northern states that all roads become soft in the spring as frost melts, and applying unrestricted 164,00-pound truck loading and traffic on soft roads, whether paved or unpaved, is poor public policy that defies common sense when it comes to road preservation, and will lead to significant damage to the road system, economic damage in Clare County and increased risk to drivers in our region; and

Whereas, SB 396 also grants exemptions to the forest industry that will allow the hauling of forest products and transport of equipment on the public road system without obtaining proper permits from road authorities at all times of the year; and

Whereas, the provisions of SB 396 will result in costly damage to the public road system which is the opposite of what the Michigan Legislature and the people off Michigan called for in the 2015 Michigan Transportation Package; and

Whereas, the provisions of SB 396 will negatively impact the traveling public accessing the road system, burdening road authorities with expensive reactive maintenance repairs and significantly increased taxpayer costs, as well as increased county and township contributions to maintain the public road system; and

Whereas, the provisions in SB 396 and subsequent impacts to the local road system will negatively impact the health, safety and welfare of Clare County residents and the traveling public; and

Whereas, the County of Clare works closely with the Clare County Road Commission to maintain our vital local road network and to accommodate the logging industry wherever possible to maintain the economic vitality of our region;

Therefore, let it be resolved, that Clare County hereby strongly opposes SB 396 (S-5); and

Be it further resolved, that a vote hereon be taken by aye and at and spread at large on the minutes of the Board.”

Commentary on this bill is not limited to governmental bodies. Private citizens also are encouraged to express their views on SB 396 (S-5) by contacting their representatives at the addresses listed above.