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.
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.