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County, loggers debate potential ordinance

It’s not always the case that a county commission work session warrants notice by the community. It’s a meeting during which commissioners discuss proposed agenda items and get input from department heads, as well as entertain input from citizens who ask to be on the agenda. But after one agenda item from last month’s work session sparked controversy among a segment of the community, January’s work session drew a crowd to challenge the commission and share their viewpoints.

The proposed ordinance drawing so much attention is a logging ordinance, which the county is considering to create a notification system to provide smooth communication between loggers and the county – particularly between loggers and the county engineering department.

Two spokespeople put their names on the agenda to speak on the issue, with more than a dozen others on hand to chime in, pose their own questions and add nonverbal agreement or disagreement to the points made.

Bill Harris of the Alabama Forestry Association spoke on behalf of the loggers, while also offering to assist the county in every way the association can.

“We are not in favor of notifications,” said Harris. He also reminded the commission that it is illegal to implement a permitting or bond system, although a notification system is permissible. He encouraged the the county to keep the loggers’ livelihood in mind. “They do a very valuable service for all of us,” Harris said, asking the county to “keep their lives and their profit margins as good as possible.”

What followed was an hour of back-and-forth among the county commissioners, Harris, the loggers attending and county engineer David Palmer, who explained two not-directly-related legislative issues in recent past that redirected money that could have been allocated to highway departments that was instead apportioned to other departments.

“We haven’t had a revenue increase since 1992 at the state level. We’ve asked and begged and pleaded to work through the state and with the state,” Palmer said. “I promise you that all this plays into the fact that we don’t have anywhere to turn if any damage occurs on a road in Franklin County.”

The county, for its part, suggested that a notification system would allow them to prevent damage by directing loggers to use alternate roads and by planning a roadwork schedule built around logging work areas, so that neither party would interfere with the other.

Several loggers, on the other hand, voiced their feelings that the county was blaming them for damaging roads and hinting – if not implying – that loggers should be held responsible for the damage. The county insisted this was not the case.

“Most of the roads in Franklin County were built when the only things on them were a school bus and a peddler truck,” said Commissioner Rayburn Massey. “That won’t hold up a sand truck, or a concrete truck, or a logging truck or any of those kinds of things. We know and understand all that, and we know y’all have got to make a living. Hopefully David has explained what little bit (of money) we’ve got to do with, and we’ve got to make that go as far as it can. We’ve just got to try to maximize what little bit we have.”

Palmer, along with the county, urged the loggers to understand how increased communication could assist the county. “What we’re talking about is what you do have control over,” Palmer said. “You can’t control whether the road tears up. And honestly, we can’t either. But in the end, if there’s something we can all do to limit that, that’s what we ought to do.”

Although most in the room seemed to agree that communication and common sense were reasonable things to ask, some were less convinced of the county’s pure motivations – including Jack Stanfield, who suggested the county intended to introduce an ordinance, not get any logger’s input on it and pass it quickly before it could be argued against.

“You would have railroaded this through just as far as it would go,” he accused. “You would have made us post bonds … I think you’re taking an unfair shot at logging. Notifications – I’m like the rest of them. I don’t have any problem with you knowing where I’m at. But putting any restriction on us such as paying for the right away, paying for damage or trying to make us bond – I think that’s unfair.”

Palmer said the county was not prepared to approve an ordinance at last month’s meeting and, thus, that conversations on what the county was or was not going to approve were premature.

“There were all kinds of discussions back and forth. It was all talked about,” Palmer said.

“You can’t convince me,” Stanfield said. “When a man says, ‘We want to sit down and discuss it with the people involved so we can come up with something that will be good for both sides,’ I’ll agree. That’s wonderful.

“But if y’all had really wanted to do that, that would have happened before this article came out,” he said, referring to a previous news story on last month’s work session. “Y’all didn’t invite any of us here tonight … Y’all were intending on railroading a permit. You’ll never make me believe anything else.”

The county will hold its regular monthly meeting Tuesday at 8:30 a.m. Nothing was mentioned as to whether the proposed logging ordinance will feature on the agenda.

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