In 2012, the Alabama Forestry Association (AFA) and the Association of County Commissions of Alabama (ACCA) worked together to create a statewide Logging Notice Act, which was subsequently passed by the Alabama Legislature. The new law was intended to address the interests and concerns of both parties as they related to the use of public roadways during a timber harvest. It was deemed a mutually acceptable agreement between loggers, county commissioners and county engineers.
The AFA was motivated to pursue formal legislation after an increasing number of counties – at least 23 of 67 by the end of 2010 – passed a variety of bonds, permits and ordinances intended to regulate logging activities. Viewing this activity as having the potential to increase the cost of logging through permits and restricted access to lands and roadways, the AFA engaged the ACCA in an effort to proactively address concerns that county engineers had expressed about the effect of logging operations on public roads and bridges.
The Logging Notice Act was intended to establish a consistent set of legal guidelines county officials could use to address concerns that unidentified loggers could not be held accountable for the damage their operations caused to public roads. The new law outlined a number of procedures that require advanced notice between loggers and county officials; it primarily granted county commissions the authority to require that loggers provide notice of their intent to access public roads and bridges prior to a timber harvest. This was intended as a way for the county to document existing road damage prior to the start of logging operations.
While providing the conditions under which counties could require advanced notice of logging activities, the Act did not mandate counties make advanced notice of these activities a requirement. In fact, the law directs county commissioners to pass a Logging Notice Ordinance should they opt to require advance notice as described. Following the passage of the bill, the AFA and the ACCA discussed the development of standardized guidelines to help counties comply with the new law.
In September, however, a Model County Ordinance issued by the ACCA raised concerns among AFA members that the ordinance was positioned to circumvent original compromises made between the two parties.
Model County Ordinance
By mid-September, the ACCA had distributed a Model Ordinance for counties to implement in the event they decide to require prior notice from loggers. The AFA quickly expressed its concerns about the Model County Ordinance because it contained three provisions that were excluded from the law after negotiation between the ACCA and the AFA. These items appear to place the Ordinance at direct odds with the Logging Notice Act.
- The ordinance requires forest owners obtain county approval prior to a timber harvest, which effectively turns filing a notice into obtaining a permit.
- In addition to notice from loggers who harvest and access public roads in the same county, the ordinance requires a county receive notice when a logger plans to haul timber across its roadways. The ordinance also requires notice of a timber harvest when no country roads are planned for use.
- The ordinance authorizes county engineers to use warnings set forth by the law to enforce other county regulations, and it grants county engineers the authority to shut down operations.
By November, the ACCA had revised the Model County Ordinance on two occasions. In a memo released by the ACCA, the revisions were described as an effort to alleviate the concerns expressed by the AFA as well as to establish a sound legal base for any county that wishes to adopt the ordinance. The revisions were also intended to clarify any warnings or citations issued under the Ordinance will result only from violations of its stated notice procedures.
Version Two added a subsection to establish time frames for which the county engineers were expected to respond to the notice provided by timber owners. Version Three added an additional subsection to further clarify when the county may issue an advisory communication to the timber owner.
- Proper Notice Confirmation: The county will provide a notice of confirmation when a timber owner’s notice includes all required information and raises no concerns from the county.
- Notice of Deficiency: The county will notify the timber owner of information missing from the notice and an explanation of corrective actions.
- Advisory: The county will respond with an appropriate advisory if the timber owner’s notice is not acceptable in regards to the haul route, access point or drainage procedures. The timber owner will be asked to propose an alternate if the access point or haul route are deemed unacceptable. If the drainage procedures are deficient, the timber owner will be asked to contact the county engineer to develop an adequate plan for drainage.
The memo issued by the ACCA recommended counties also remove the request for liability insurance policy numbers , liability insurers’ contact information, and a letter sent to the timber owner’s liability insurance carrier. The ACCA has provided a list of frequently asked questions on its webpage describing the revised notices.
As of December 21, ACCA records indicate 17 Alabama counties had passed the model ordinance (see table). At least one of these—Marengo—has since repealed the ordinance.
The AFA remains concerned it was not provided the opportunity to review the Model County Ordinances prior to their distribution by the ACCA. In addition, the Association has sent a letter to county commissioners, engineers and attorneys across the state to express its concern that the Ordinance goes beyond the letter and the intention of the law. The AFA is currently reviewing the subsequent versions of the Model Ordinance to determine whether it is consistent with the Logging Notice Act or not. The three versions of the Model County Ordinance and answers to frequently asked questions about the Logging Notice Act are available at the AFA website. Check there for further updates as well.
Just another way to bleed the Loggers and owners of their hard earned money!