LOSG: Dunn County has detailed highway checklist but no procedure to trigger use

By LeAnn R. Ralph

MENOMONIE  —  Although the Dunn County Highway Department has a detailed checklist to help assess the potential impact on roads of heavy equipment and trucks, no mechanism appears to be in place to trigger its use. 

Jesse Rintala, Dunn County highway commissioner, spoke to the Livestock Operations Study Group March 2 about impacts to local roads.

[emember_protected] The study group, which met for the first time November 30, is operating as part of a six-month moratorium in Dunn County on expanding or developing new Confined Animal Feeding Operations that would have 1,000 or more animal units.

The focus of LOSG is to evaluate the impact of CAFOs on the health, safety and welfare of Dunn County’s residents and resources, to report on the group’s findings and to make recommendations.

The road assessment checklist was developed several years ago at the height of the sand mining boom and is intended to help county staff navigate the steps to assess the impact of heavy equipment and trucks on the transportation system, including safety issues and the structural capacity of roads, Rintala said. 

CAFOs can have impacts on roads when trucks are used to haul manure, feed for animals and milk from dairy farms.

Farm field equipment also can have impacts on roads.

Weight limits 

State statute allows municipalities to impose and modify weight limits on roads as necessary and does not stipulate when road bans can be put into place and for how long, Rintala said.

A common perception exists that road bans can only be put in place in the spring for a limited amount of time, but that’s not true. Municipalities can put on road bans whenever necessary and can leave the weight restrictions in place all year long to protect the roads if needed, he said.

State law also allows municipalities to recover damages to roadways from heavy equipment or trucks and makes the cost for damage “liable in treble” — that is, the municipality can collect an amount that is three times as much as the actual cost of repairing the damage.

Rintala noted that the Dunn County highway department has received telephone calls about the weight limits already put on county roads this year. The caller said the weight limit was causing harm to the caller’s business.

The problem was, Rintala said, the person who was complaining used trucks that were under the weight limit and were not prevented from driving on county roads.

450 miles

Dunn County has 450 miles of roads. Some of them were paved 30 years ago, and some of them have minimal base and minimal blacktop, Rintala said.

The older pavement and roads with little base and only a narrow layer of blacktop cannot hold up to the weight of trucks, he said.

Bob Colson, Dunn County zoning administrator and planner, wanted to know how townships become involved when it is time to assess the impacts on roads. 

If the traffic is originating in the town, then the company must go to the town board first. If the traffic is originating on a county road, then any town roads that will be used are identified right away, and the town is brought into the assessment, Rintala said. 

Gary Bjork, county board supervisor, a member of the planning, resources and development committee, and a member of the livestock operations study group, wondered about manure or silage trucks on smaller, older county roads.

If the trucks are hauling back and forth to a farm or field, if they go in one direction and come back a different direction so they are not meeting on the narrow road and both are forced to drive on the road shoulder, that would help to minimize the damage to the shoulders, Bjork said.

Oftentimes in those situations, the county only finds out about the manure or silage hauling when there is a problem “and a big chunk of road has already fallen off,” Rintala said.

Many of Dunn County’s roads have 500 or 600 vehicles per day. Some of the roads only have 250 vehicles per day. County Highway B from state Highway 12/29 to state Highway 40 is a “high volume” road, Rintala said, noting only a few roads in Dunn County have a volume above 1,000 vehicles per day.

Mechanism

Chris Straight, a senior planner with the West Central Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, wondered if a requested change in zoning, or some other mechanism, triggered the road impact assessment.

Road assessment is not part of a conditional use permit, Colson said.

Identifying a process that would implement the use of the road assessment procedures “would be good,” Rintala said. 

The checklist includes determining the characteristics of the proposed facility; performing a traffic impact analysis; performing an analysis of necessary road improvements to accommodate the increased traffic; determining the costs for road improvements; and a roadway improvement and maintenance agreement. 

The livestock operations study group is made up of members of the Dunn County Board’s Planning, Resources and Development Committee, Dunn County’s planner and zoning administrator, the county conservationist, UW-Extension, other county staff members and area farmers as well as citizen representatives.

LOSG meets next March 16, and the meeting will include reports from the Dunn County public health department.

LOSG is expected to identify recommendations in April and then to develop a working draft of a report for the study group to review.

The report is expected to be presented to the Dunn County Board in May. [/emember_protected]