Loggers meet with Commission about proposed legislation

Published 10:01 am Thursday, November 29, 2012

A room full of local loggers was present for Monday’s County Commission meeting to discuss proposed logging legislation and its passage in Crenshaw County.

The measure has been discussed over the past several months, and it would require a logging company to submit a form to the county so that the county could review the proposed logging site for safety or drainage problems.

It would also allow the county to better monitor road conditions in logging areas, which County Engineer Benjie Sanders said would be a benefit.

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The Alabama Forestry Association has voiced concerns that the legislation would be more of a permit instead of a notice and require loggers to obtain consent from the county before starting operations.

“I’d like to ask the Commission to postpone voting on the logging permit for a period of time,” said Jay Kaiser of H.E. Browder Veneer in Bradleyton. “We don’t want one [a permit] period, but if we do have one, we want it to have all the facts so that it’s written in such a way that it’s good for the county and timber industry.”

Sanders, who has been leading the project for the county, said that he had previously met with a number of loggers and worked with county attorney Levi Nichols to try to resolve some of the issues.

“I want to take what we’ve gotten to this point and let everyone have a time when we can meet and discuss specific items,” Sanders said. “I’ve got a revised document that I’ve been working on since that meeting, and I’d like for the Commission or anyone to look at it that’s interested.”

Despite local work to resolve issues with the legislation, Nichols said it appears that the problem is happening statewide.

“I’ve got some new concerns,” said Nichols, who added that he had heard that some counties were using the legislation in a way that Crenshaw County doesn’t want to use it: as a speeding/citation revenue builder.  He said that around seven counties have already passed the measure.

“It looks like it will end up in a lawsuit before it’s over,” he said. “I’ve talked to several attorneys for the ACCA [Association of County Commissions of Alabama] and for your [the loggers’] association, and they just don’t agree on what it says. It seems like there are a lot of people that have tabled it until they see what happens.”

Nichols suggested that the county continue to work on ironing out the details while waiting to see if a lawsuit would be filed.

“Our intention was to stay away from permits and fees,” said Commissioner Merrill Sport. “We just wanted notice and to be notified when a logger was on a tract and when they left the tract so there could be accountability to check on the roads.”

No action was taken on the matter.

In other business, Stephen Wilson, president of the Crenshaw County Volunteer Fire Association, spoke briefly to the Commission about a proposed sales tax.

The Commission approved the half-cent sales tax to benefit the county’s volunteer fire departments in March, but the bill was unable to be properly advertised in The Luverne Journal in time to be introduced to the legislature before the end of the session.  Therefore, the tax did not appear on the ballot for voters’ approval.

“The only thing that [Rep. Charles] Newton and I spoke about changing is obviously the date of the general election,” Wilson said. “Other than that, there are zero changes to it.  We wanted to come back and make sure it’s still ok.”

Wilson said he’d like to run the measure in the legal section of The Journal in December so that Newton can introduce the bill in the first 2013 session so that it can possibly go for a vote in 2014.

The Commission also heard from Dozier police chief Terry Mears, who applied for and was awarded a grant for new air conditioning units at the Harbin Farm Center.

The Commission congratulated him on obtaining the award, and Mears said he would get quotes for the units.

Nichols also gave an update on the possibility of the county buying concrete from Stephens Concrete, which is the only concrete supplier in the county.

Because the business is owned by Commissioner Michelle Stephens, the county must travel to either Troy or Greenville to get concrete, which adds cost to projects.

“I don’t see any way to do it without breaching laws,” Nichols said.

“I don’t think a sole-source situation gets you out of that,” he added. “She’ll still have financial gain, and that will trump everything else.”

The Commission voted to submit to the Attorney General for an opinion, but Nichols said that the AG’s office doesn’t always issue an opinion if an issue is clear enough.

Sport also spoke about the need for more law enforcement manpower to help with the Department of Human Resources.

“They’re going out in rough situations and can’t get law enforcement to go with them,” he said. “I’ve asked our grant writer to see if there is something out there in the form of a grant [to help fund another officer for such cases].”

Sport said that the Sheriff’s Department was short a deputy, but County Administrator David Smyth later clarified that an officer had been hired to work with the CCSO and the Drug Taskforce, but that he had been taken off the DTF payroll and was now working for the county.

Smyth said that the budget has provisions for eight deputies, and eight are currently employed.

On another matter, Sport also pointed out that a recent rate increase on landline telephone bills came from an increase in E-911 charges instituted by the E-911 board, not the County Commission.

The evening meeting for December was cancelled, as it falls on Christmas Eve.