Commission in staunch opposition to SB157

Published 11:00 am Wednesday, February 9, 2022

A piece of legislation that recently came out of committee and is headed to the Alabama State Senate was one of the topics of discussion at Monday’s Chambers County Commission meeting. Commissioners approved a resolution that strongly opposes Senate Bill 157 (SB157) or the Rural Logging Support Act of 2022.

SB157 was introduced by Sen. Will Barfoot, who represents Alabama’s 25th District, aimed at authorizing taxpayers to receive a tax credit for contributions to logging support organizations and provide for logging support organizations to make grants for maintenance and construction of rural bridges and for installation of onboard scales and other technologies that promote transportation efficiencies.

The bill also provides for exceptions to weight restrictions for qualifying vehicles used in forest commerce. Those exceptions will increase the allowable gross weight and axle weight for certain five-axle and six-axle logging trucks by 10%, allowing for the transportation of up to 90,400 pounds depending on the axle size.

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This exception has drawn criticism from the county commissioners and county engineer Josh Harvill.

Harvill fears the increase in weight restrictions will have a negative impact on county roads and bridges.

“We all recognize that weight limits on our bridges, posted limits on our bridges, the legal waste that can be carried on our roads are there for a reason. They’re not to be stressed,” Harvill told the commission. “I feel 100% confident that this legislation unknowingly by those that are proposing it would be a detriment not only to their businesses, but to our community and county, state system, and it will pay dividends way down the line not just immediately. It will be long reaching the impact of such legislation.”

State Senator Randy Price, who represents Alabama’s 13th District, told the Valley Times-News he understands the commission’s concerns but is also weighing the benefits of the bill.

“I understand the county commission’s concern. But at the same time, you have to really look at this entire bill,” Price said. “In the logging industry, what we’re being told is that only probably 20% of the trucks will actually qualify to fit into this program. And that’s because they have those older trucks, and they can pay you as far as exactly what they will be hauling. The benefit then is it sets up through a nonprofit, for them to participate in this program, to where that money will go to a nonprofit, and then it will be used for replacing bridges across the state of Alabama.”

Price said he is in favor of amending the bill to define the term ‘rural.’

“What I would like for us to do is to define the word rural,” Price said. “I’m in support of the bill, but I want it tweaked for us to be able to identify rural counties.”

Commissioner James “Moto” Williams, who has been in the forestry industry for over 30 years recognizes its impact on the local economy but also says he knows first hand the impact the weight of logging trucks have on roads and bridges and is also opposed to the legislation.

“We as commissioners know that forestry is one of our number one industries. I think if you actually put numbers to it, forestry employs more people in this county than any other industry,” Williams said. “But, I want it clear that I am opposed to this Senate bill for the simple reason I know the forestry industry. I’ve been in it for 33 years. I know what these heavy trucks do and what it’s gonna do if we add this weight to it. I’m not opposed to logging, I want to make that clear. I’m not opposed to forestry. I’m just opposed to these new weights.”

Commission Chair Debra Riley also said the resolution was being sent in hopes the bill will be stopped from moving forward.

“We have a great working relationship with our senators, Sen. Price and with our representatives, Rep. Wood and [Rep.] Fincher,” Riley said. “We’re sending this resolution just simply hoping that we will stop this bill for the time being, until we can engage in a more inclusive conversation.”

Riley said she does not believe there is any intent to damage roads.

“I don’t believe it’s anyone’s intent to do this damage to our roads,” she explained. “Oftentimes it’s just a lack of information and knowledge. And so we’re asking this bill to be stopped until we can engage in that conversation with our engineers and our legislative bodies.”

Because the bill has already left committee, it can reach the Senate floor at any time.