NORTHERN CAMBRIA – Small towns along Route 219 are complaining about recent “super-load hauling” of windmill pieces from Canada to Somerset County that has stalled traffic and damaged property.
At least two long-haul trucking companies from Quebec have been assisted by Northern Cambria Borough and state police in weaving their way through the area on one of the few highways that lead south from Canada.
The giant rigs have local residents wondering what the trucks are hauling – and why they are being transported on a rural highway such as Route 219.
The ongoing transport of turbine parts began in late October, borough police Chief Kevin Stanek said.
“We had a damaged signal light on Barr Avenue, and another truck on Tuesday actually pulled it down completely,” Stanek said. “We had a state sign at the Philadelphia Avenue intersection get torched and taken down simply because it was in the way.
“The trucks also broke up the sidewalks by Bonatesta’s Tavern.”
Stanek said the rigs are tying up a few officers and seven or eight borough crew members to direct traffic and move cars off the streets.
Jean-Luc Bellemare, owner of Thomas Bellemare Transport Ltd. of Trois-Rivieres, Canada, said his company was contracted by General Electric to move turbine towers from Quebec to Somerset County. He did not identify a specific wind project using the equipment his company was hauling.
“There are different shapes and sizes of trucks being utilized,” Bellemare told The Tribune-Democrat. “The base section of the towers we transported are 165 feet long and 15 feet wide.”
Representatives from another Quebec hauling company, Maltais Transport, did not return phone messages left for comment.
Bellemare said his company moves about 450 tower bases a year all over North America – and has been doing so for at least five years. He said he is unaware of any damages caused by his company.
“We’ve been done with that project for at least three weeks, so it is doubtful that Bellemare is responsible,” he said.
“But every company that needs or requires an oversize or overweight load permit within any county or state is responsible for any damage done to the roadway or anything around it,” adding that companies are subject to claims from the state, county or municipality.
Carrolltown Borough police Chief Dave Murphy said that, while his borough has not seen any damage, traffic control has been an issue.
“I don’t understand why they’re on Route 219,” Murphy said. “I can’t believe (PennDOT) gave a permit to allow these on the highways.
“The trucks always seem to appear at school dismissal or right before. The traffic is just backed up all over the place. Everyone’s using the side streets and everyone’s mad.”
Ed Smay, a district permit manager for PennDOT in Hollidaysburg, said he was not aware of any problems with the heavy haulers. He said companies such as Bellemare and Maltais likely applied online for a heavy-hauling permit, a class Smay said is not reviewed by his department.
“We may never physically see the permit,” Smay said.
Online applications for super-load permits, however, are subject to review, he added. “Super-loads are required to have a state police escort.”
Smay said PennDOT’s computer system has restrictions built into its online application system and, based on load size, the issued permit includes a recommended route of travel based upon the load size.
Haulers are supposed to drive the suggested route before hauling.
“They are to re-run the routes themselves to make sure they can physically run the route. But seeing as they’re from Canada, I doubt they’re doing that,” Smay said.
Bellemare said his company prefers major highways, and actually had planned transporting south along Interstate 81 to the Pennsylvania Turnpike, heading west.
“Those roads were not available at the time due to road construction and overhead structures that were in the way,” Bellemare said. “Route 219 was our only option, and approved by (PennDOT).”
He said it takes about 21/2 days to transport one rig from Binghamton, N.Y., to Somerset County.
If the haulers aren’t abiding by permit restrictions, Smay said, state or local police have to enforce them. The super-load permits require a 24-hour notice prior to movement in the state.
“Just because these companies have a special hauling permit, it doesn’t mean they can move signs and drive over the sidewalks,” Smay said.
Stanek said that, because the borough is required by PennDOT to maintain state signs and signal lights, it will be footing the bill, at least a few thousand dollars. The municipality then will submit the damages to the carrier’s insurance company.
Smay said the issue probably will become more common.
“If the wind farm companies are getting the property to put these farms in, they have to have a way to get the equipment in there.”
By Julie Benamati
2 December 2007
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