County looks to solve thorny log­ging is­sues

Be­cause of dam­age to land caused by log­gers that goes un­mit­i­gated, changes to the cur­rent tim­ber har­vest­ing codes are be­ing con­sid­ered.

The Standard Journal - - LOCAL - By Kevin Myrick SJ Edi­tor

Of­fi­cials are hop­ing that changes to a lo­cal code that gov­erns tim­ber har­vest­ing will help solve prob­lems that are be­ing caused when log­gers leave be­hind dam­age and don’t clean it up.

As­sis­tant County Man­ager Barry Akin­son has spent a lot of time look­ing over the is­sues, and be­lieves he’s come up with some novel so­lu­tions that will en­sure when dam­age is found and not cleaned up by the com­pa­nies re­spon­si­ble, they still have to cover the bill in the end.

It was a prob­lem Akin­son be­gan look­ing into be­fore he left the county last Novem­ber, but has sub­se­quently re­turned to work on since his re­turn ear­lier this year upon the ad­di­tional re­quest of Com­mis­sion Chair Jen­nifer Hulsey.

Com­mis­sioner Jose Igle­sias, the chair of the com­mit­tee, turned over the con­ver­sa­tion quickly to Akin­son

Here’s how the process works now: when any­one who owns prop­erty with a large stand of trees they want to sell to har­vesters, those who are plan­ning on do­ing the work are re­quired to fill out a sin­gle form and sub­mit it to the county to no­tify of­fi­cials they plan to har­vest tim­ber at a lo­ca­tion in Polk County.

Ad­di­tion­ally, the com­pany must sub­mit a $5,000 ir­rev­o­ca­ble letter of credit that can be used by the county’s Pub­lic Works depart­ment to fix any right of way or road is­sues that har­vesters leave be­hind and don’t cor­rect on their own.

State law, Akin­son and County Man­ager Matt Den­ton both ex­plained, lim­its what of­fi­cials can and can’t reg­u­late in­volv­ing tim­ber har­vest­ing, since law­mak­ers in At­lanta have tra­di­tion­ally sided with com­pa­nies over lo­cal reg­u­la­tions and made any po­ten­tial re­quire­ments placed on log­gers harder to put into mu­nic­i­pal codes.

For in­stance, Akin­son pointed out in state code where state law­mak­ers voted into the of­fi­cial code lan­guage that makes it im­pos­si­ble for any kind of fee to be charged lo­cally for fil­ing a no­ti­fi­ca­tion to har­vest tim­ber, or ob­tain any kind of per­mit.

He did say that there were some ar­eas where the county can take ac­tion and pro­mote bet­ter prac­tices on the part of log­gers.

“We can in­clude and make ad­di­tions for not track­ing up the road, re­quire that they can’t load from right of way, and they have to use a stag­ing area,” Akin­son said.

He said that a re­view of the is­sues that Pub­lic Works of­fi­cials in the un­in­cor­po­rated parts of the county usu­ally face dur­ing and in the af­ter­math of log­ging op­er­a­tions on a prop­erty are all parts of the up­graded or­di­nance he’s drafted up for con­sid­er­a­tion.

Tim­ber har­vesters can’t be heav­ily reg­u­lated when it comes to what they do on pri­vate prop­er­ties they op­er­ate off of in the county, but once they do dam­age to ad­join­ing prop­er­ties or any ar­eas that are pub­lic road­ways or rights of way, of­fi­cials can step in.

“It ag­gra­vates me be­cause they tear the roads up ev­ery­where they go,” Den­ton said.

One area they hope to make a dif­fer­ence is in mak­ing sure any dam­age done by log­ging trucks and equip­ment to ditches is re­paired be­fore they head off to an­other site to con­tinue their work. County of­fi­cials are propos­ing that if re­pairs aren’t made to ditches or right of way dam­age with 30 days of a no­ti­fi­ca­tion to the com­pany, their letter of credit will be used to cover the cost of that re­pair.

Com­mis­sion­ers have heard the com­plaints of lo­cal res­i­dents im­pacted by log­ging op­er­a­tions, and also those from driv­ers on road­ways where trucks loaded down with tim­ber speed by on the way to mills. In re­cent years, Polk County has seen their share of fa­tal­i­ties from such op­er­a­tions, in­clud­ing the death of mail car­rier Gina Jack­son who was struck by a speed­ing log truck while driv­ing through the in­ter­sec­tion at the Cedar­town Bypass and Col­lard Val­ley Road.

How­ever, they had ad­di­tional ques­tions and clar­i­fi­ca­tions about the process.

Com­mis­sioner Chuck Thax­ton a s k e d who would be in charge of main­tain­ing and hold­ing the Let­ters of Credit while tim­ber har­vesters did their work, and how they would be used if log­gers didn’t con­clude re­pair work in a timely fash­ion.

For the mo­ment, those let­ters will be held by the Pub­lic Works depart­ment so they can be avail­able to Di­rec­tor Michael Gravett should he have to use them for re­pair pur­poses.

Those let­ters are ad­di­tion­ally re­new­able an­nu­ally.

Thax­ton also sought to find out who would de­cide what con­sti­tutes dam­age, and will make no­ti­fi­ca­tions when that dam­age is found and re­quires im­me­di­ate re­pairs.

Den­ton said that would be up to the county’s Code En­force­ment Of­fi­cer.

“The idea is that if we find mud in the road, or a ditch that needs to be re­pair or needs to be fixed, we’re going to use your letter of credit,” Den­ton said.

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