Davis says truck problems will continue until sheriff enforces law

By ED HOWELL, Daily Mountain Eagle
Posted 12/6/17

The Walker County Commission on Monday discussed the problem of loggers and coal companies tearing up roads, with one commissioner charging the problem will not get better until the Sheriff’s Department starts writing tickets.

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Davis says truck problems will continue until sheriff enforces law


The Walker County Commission on Monday discussed the problem of loggers and coal companies tearing up roads, with one commissioner charging the problem will not get better until the Sheriff’s Department starts writing tickets.

However, Sheriff Jim Underwood said Tuesday that his department is regularly working to enforce traffic problems and responds to the commission’s complaints on the trucks. Moreover, he indicated the commission is wanting more tickets to be written to raise money for the county.

At Monday’s meeting, resident Billy Bonner of Pleasant Grove said area companies are occasionally riding on an area bridge with 30,000 pounds of load limit, and detailed how other overweight trucks are using the bridge.

“I just want to make all of you know that bridge is being misused every once and a while,” he said.

Chairman Jerry Bishop said he and County Engineer Mike Short “have personally tried to stop all that, and (District 2 Commissioner Jeff Burroughs) has, too. But we cannot be out there all the time.” 

Burrough said he invited Bonner to come to the meeting to make a public statement. “In my district, I do have several logging companies and coal companies both. We get complaints, but we do go out and check on them. Most of them, if we come out, they try to accommodate what we ask,” he said. “We’re monitoring it. Those guys are trying to make a living, but for the most part they try to help. But we want to be making it known they don’t need to be crossing bridges that is not certified for their weight limit.” 

He said Short has also tried to call the companies.

“Jeff, we spend a lot of time out there, and you know it,” Bishop said. “But maybe — the only way you are going to do it is to catch one and get a tag number, and I don’t think we can legally go write a ticket after they are off-site, off the road. We can’t post a deputy all the time.” Short said, “You practically have to catch them in the act.” 

Burrough said residents care and many of them are taking photos of the situations.

Bishop said despite having once owned a fleet of trucks, he has been known in commissioner schooling as the “man who hates trucks.” Bishop and other commissioners have complained in recent months that the county has little funding these days to handle road repairs.

“This has been an issue with me from Day 1,” he said. “We try to stop these coal people from tearing up our roads. We try to stop the loggers from tearing up our roads. But these commissioners have other duties. I go out, but when I go I don’t seem to see anybody or catch anybody.

“And it is a major issue. What we’re getting out of the revenue from these trucks that are tearing up, we’re going into the hole. The revenue from the coal severance tax is gone. Most of these companies are from out of county and some are from out of state. Most of our loggers from Walker County don’t even log anymore. So it is tearing up our roads and we get very little from it.” 

District 1 Commissioner Keith Davis said the situation is a major problem, and he gets several calls each week about it. People complain about trucks on “No Truck” roads, as well as reckless driving and “rampant speeding.” He said some trucks are on bridges where they shouldn’t be.

“I’ve made it aware to the sheriff several times. I will simply now tell them to call the Sheriff’s Department,” he said. “Until the Sheriff’s Department starts enforcing the traffic laws, it is going to continue to be that way. The trucking companies need to have some tickets wrote to them, the drivers. I think it would slow down and curtail some of it. But until we have that, it is just going to continue.”

He said as a commissioner he could have some more signs posted, “but as far as enforcing traffic laws, that is not what we do,” he said.

County Attorney Eddie Jackson said an agreement was reached after negotiation several years ago with certain logging companies, who would give details about activities He said even now, some of the agreements were not being met. District 3 Commissioner Ralph Williams said while one logging company later made repairs, while it was logging it made one road impassable.

Davis said most of the companies do abide by agreements reached after meetings held with them in the past. However, he said a few errant drivers make the situation bad for all, noting some violate the laws and requests on purpose. He said commissioners cannot do anything about it. “It has to be done by law enforcement, the Sheriff’s Department,” he said.

He said commissioners do not want to be a hinderance to business, but the county’s roads still have to be protected.

Davis said in one recent instance, a logger used an unapproved route just off Highway 257. He contacted the Sheriff’s Department, which sent a deputy and eventually told the loggers it was OK to proceed.

“Well, guess what, it wasn’t OK,” he said. “That route had not been approved by me or by Mike, so luckily I knew the owner of the logging company.” He called the owner and asked him to relocate some equipment that would lesson damage to the roads.

Bishop said the company owners can do some action to help, but many independent operators who haul logs and coal. “Most of your trouble, you will find out, is coming from them. They take a short cut and make more money,” he said.

Williams, a former deputy, said he wanted to thank the Sheriff’s Department. Williams said he had complaints of coal trucks on the Cordova-Gorgas Road.

“The Sheriff’s Office, they didn’t have to write but a couple of tickets and that got rid of the rest of the coal trucks,” Williams said.

Davis replied, “Well, Ralph, can you get them to come to District 1, because it seems like I can’t.” Williams said, “I’m sure they can.” 

Bishop moved the discussion along, interrupting Davis and Williams. He eventually said Davis made a good comment about needing law enforcement officers, “and I’m sure they will (help).”

However, Bishop then said, “We’ve got to go to these owners and say, ‘We’re fixin’ to hold y’all responsible for tearing up these roads. The coal companies are the ones who need to come in and say, ‘We need to run these trucks this route.’ OK, we video it and we take pictures. That’s the way they did me. We videoed their roads. We got through and we fixed them — the coal company did. They paid me to fix them, but they did it” 

He said if the companies want to mine the coal, “they don’t need to destroy more roads than we are getting out of it. I’m one for jobs, but like I said, they are from out of county and out of state, and half the employees don’t even live in this county. It’s probably more than that.” 

Bishop said the commission would continue to work on the situation, and urged Bonner to call Bridges about any more situations.

Asked to respond to Davis’ comments on Tuesday, Underwood said he recalled the situation just off Highway 257.

The deputy spoke to the logging official, who complained that the short area that they had to turn in was the only way they could get back onto the road.

“We have no scales to weigh trucks. I’m not aware of any agency in this county that has one other than the state police,” he said. “We’ve been working traffic grants for the past two years, which involves speeding tickets (and) warnings all over the county.” 

“Since I was elected I purchased two radar guns which are mobile,” he said. “We move them all over the county at different places when we get a complaint about traffic. We have written numerous tickets and numerous warning tickets. We are required to keep an account of those, and report them back on the grant. I think there are two contacts an hour when we are out working that. The National Safety Program, they pay the overtime for our deputies to do that.

“Also, Mr. Davis called me maybe six or eight weeks ago about speeding on Duncan Road. I’ve assigned a deputy up there with radar twice that I know of to curtail speeding up there. He did cite a few people. Also, he asked me about a logging truck being brought into one of the local neighborhoods up there, off of Highway No. 5, and we went and investigated that.

“So anytime he has called me about a situation, I’ve taken some steps to check into it. I know we work traffic,” Underwood said, noting Williams had called him about a situation recently and cited a couple of people. “I think that problem seems to have stopped.” 

Underwood — who has sued the county recently over funding to run his department and over feeding inmates at the Walker County Jail — said the department does not have funding and personnel to run radar checks all the time, as deputies are busy responding to calls as needed.

“It is good if you have the manpower and time to sit on these backroads to sit and watch for them, but right now we don’t have that privilege to do that,” he said. “They guys work traffic overtime, where they get paid.” 

He also noted a request from the commission, which has struggled this year with finances as it arranged to pay principal on its debt, starting in February. A 1-cent sales tax failed at the polls in August, and the commission has made a number of cuts to balance the budget. That has led to tense exchanges between the sheriff and commission in turns of adequately funding the Sheriff’s Department and the county jail.

“The commission mentioned something to me about writing more tickets,” he said. “I believe they indicated to me they get $40 or $45 apiece off the tickets. Well, I’m not going to get out here and write tickets so the county commission will have extra funding. I work traffic when it is a necessity. We don’t just write everybody a ticket they run across. Certainly we’re not doing it to raise revenue.”

He said Davis is welcome to refer people to Underwood about traffic problems and his department will do what it can to take care of them.

“But we have other priorities that are more serious things than traffic problems. We just have to take it as we can. We cite people when it is necessary. But we don’t get out here just looking to run revenue and write people a lot of tickets. That’s not what people elected me to do. I think we do a good job on traffic.”

He said many traffic records are kept showing items such as how many people are talked to, how many cited, and whether it was a warning or a ticket. “I let the deputies decide that. I don’t decide that,” he said.

He added the three times Davis called him, he sent deputies to check on the situations.