By Nick Nunn
At the special called meeting of the Board of Commissioners (BOC) on July 16, the board heard the first reading of planned amendments to Morgan County’s truck route ordinances. Most of the changes dealt with creating a $5,000 bond or letter of credit as a requirement before being able to receive a non-truck route special use permit, which would allow the county to be able to prevent negligent damage done to county roads.
The amendments also caused concern in the timber harvesting and agriculture communities because the amendments, as originally worded, did not explicitly describe state-issued exemptions for timber and agriculture transportation.
Planning Director Chuck Jarrell explained before the reading of the amendments that they stemmed from a meeting several months ago, when the problem of damage to Morgan County roads caused by negligence was addressed by the board.
However, section 62-112 (a) of Morgan County’s ordinances, which was amended to state that “The County may lower the gross vehicle weight of trucks on Non-Truck Routes and Restricted Roads,” caused the issue with Morgan County’s timber harvesting and agriculture communities, who felt that the amendment was an infringement of the exemption mentioned in the Official Code of Georgia Annotated (OCGA) Code 32-6-26, which, according to Jarrell, allows timber and agriculture transports to haul up to 84,000 pounds, or 5 percent of the maximum weight of a truck – 80,000 pounds – to be operated on any road.
In other words, vehicles exempted by OCGA Code 32-6-26 have a maximum weight limit of 84,000 pounds, 4,000 pounds above the weight limit vehicles otherwise not exempted by the code.
Jarrell hoped to expel the concerns by explaining that the Morgan County ordinance “was never meant to address timber or agriculture because they have exemptions” and that those exemptions are beyond the reach of Morgan County ordinances.
Sonny Pennington, leading a group of a half-dozen concerned citizens, suggested to the board that the exemption be spelled out in the ordinance, which “would make it very clear that the state law is going to supercede, particularly in its relation to these exemptions.”
Jarrell, who had spoken with Pennington before the meeting was able to propose a further amendment, which would add the clause “… unless such vehicles are exempted by OCGA Code 32-6-26” to Morgan County ordinance 62-112 (a) as stated above.
At that point, the board voted that further amendment into the first reading of the Amendment to the Truck Route Ordinance.
BOC Chair Ellen Warren was happy that the board was able to placate the concerns of the citizens, saying, “We certainly don’t want to do anything that will hinder or hurt our farmers.”
The bulk of the proposed amendments involve the requirement of a $5,000 bond or letter of credit requirement as well as an indemnification agreement before the issuance of special use permits, in order to prevent damage due to negligence on the part of permit holders.
Negligent damage would involve any damage done to Morgan County roads that could be directly attributed to the permit holder, but being able to prove negligence when damages occur could pose problems for the county, according to Jarrell.
“You’ve got to be able to prove that the operation has caused that [damage] through negligence, not necessarily through the condition of the roadway,” said Jarrell. “That’s going to be a fine line.”
In order to make issues of negligence clear to the county early, Jarrell proposed daily inspections of the areas covered in the permits. Jarrell stated that the inspections could be as simple as passing by the area in a vehicle every day.
Members of the board were concerned with the county’s ability to devote enough manpower toward daily inspections, although no changes to the amendment, which includes a provision requiring such daily inspections, were suggested.
Further amendments, including moving Ponder Pines Road to the truck route list and a definition of “project” under the ordinance, were also discussed during the reading.
The amendments would also allow Morgan County to revoke permits, should the holder of the permit fail to correct damages, if they were to occur.
The second reading of the proposed amendments will take place during the August meeting of the BOC, at which time the board will vote on the amendments.