A bill that recently rolled out of committee and is heading 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 Senator Will Barfoot, who represents Alabama’s 25th District, to allow taxpayers to receive a tax credit for contributions to logging support organizations and to provide organizations with support for logging grants for the maintenance and construction of rural bridges and for the installation of on-board scales and other technologies that promote transport efficiency.
The bill also provides exceptions to weight restrictions for qualifying vehicles used in the logging trade. These exceptions will increase the allowable gross weight and axle weight of certain five- and six-axle logging trucks by 10%, allowing the haulage of up to 90,400 pounds depending on axle size.
This exception drew criticism from county commissioners and county engineer Josh Harvill.
Harvill is concerned that the increased weight restrictions will negatively impact the county’s roads and bridges.
“We all recognize that the weight limits on our bridges, the limits posted on our bridges, the legal waste that can be transported on our roads are there for a reason. They shouldn’t be stressed out,” Harvill told the commission. “I am 100% confident that this legislation, unbeknownst to those proposing it, would harm not only their businesses, but also our community and our county, the state system, and it will pay dividends across the online, not just immediately. The impact of such legislation will be long in coming.
State Sen. Randy Price, who represents Alabama’s 13th District, told the Valley Times-News that he understands the commission’s concerns, but also weighs the benefits of the bill.
“I understand the concern of the departmental commission. But at the same time, you really have to look at this whole bill,” Price said. “In the forest industry, what we are told is that probably only 20% of the trucks will actually qualify for this program. And that’s because they have these older trucks, and they can pay you exactly what they’ll haul. The advantage then is that it’s set up through a non-profit organization, for them to participate in this program, where that money will go to a non-profit organization and then it will be used for replacing bridges across the state of Alabama.
Price said he supports amending the bill to define the term “rural.”
“What I would like us to do is define the word rural,” Price said. “I support the bill, but I want it changed so we can identify rural counties.”
Commissioner James “Moto” Williams, who has worked in the logging industry for more than 30 years, recognizes its impact on the local economy, but also says he knows firsthand the impact the weight of logging trucks has on roads and bridges and also opposes legislation.
“As commissioners, we know that forestry is one of our main industries. I think if you put numbers to it, forestry employs more people in this county than any other industry,” Williams said. “But, I want to make it clear that I oppose this Senate bill for the simple reason that I know the logging industry. I’ve been there for 33 years. I know what these heavy trucks do and what it’s going to do if you add that weight to it. I am not opposed to logging, I want to make that clear. I am not opposed to forestry. I’m just opposed to these new weights.
Commission Chair Debra Riley also said the resolution was sent in hopes the bill would stop moving forward.
“We have a great working relationship with our senators, Senator Price and with our representatives, Representative Wood and [Rep.] Fincher,” Riley said. “We are sending this resolution in the simple hope that we will stop this bill for now, until we can engage in a more inclusive conversation.”
Riley said she does not believe there was any intent to damage the roads.
“I don’t believe anyone intends to cause this damage to our roads,” she explained. “Often it’s just a lack of information and knowledge. And so we ask that this bill be stopped until we can engage in this conversation with our engineers and legislative bodies.
Since the bill has already left the committee, it can reach the Senate floor at any time.