Richland County officials believe they’re covered when it comes to protecting county and township roads from the volume of heavy trucks and equipment that could come with oil and gas exploration and construction of wind farms in the county.
They say regulations governing overweight and over-wide vehicles passed more than a year ago will keep county and township roads safe and in good repair, at no cost to local government or the public.
County Engineer Tom Beck said any company or person planning to use a county road to run a truck or load that is more than 80,000 pounds – 40 tons – or wider than 10 feet must apply with the county for a permit.
County officials review the permit request and then require either a bond, an escrow payment or a maintenance agreement.
In the case of oil and gas exploration or wind farm construction, Beck said, the county probably would require a maintenance agreement because of the number of heavy trucks involved. Under those circumstances, the county would require a company to choose the route it plans to use and have soil borings done and analyzed to determine what load the pavement could handle.
That information would be taken to a consulting engineer to develop plans and specifications for the road. The developer or company then would hire a contractor to do the improvement work, which the county would supervise.
“All of this would be done at the expense of the developer,” Beck said. “We’re not planning to put our money into these projects.”
County assistant prosecutor Andrew Keller said the regulations are similar to those that apply to state routes. He said there are exceptions for certain agricultural uses.
Beck said officials are ready to negotiate an agreement with the company planning the wind farm in northwest Richland County, but have not heard from officials since the Ohio Power Siting Board approved the company’s plans. He said Devon Energy, an oil and gas exploration company, also has inquired about a permit, but has not sat down with county officials.
Beck said he, assistant engineer Jim Lichtenwalter and the prosecutor’s office have put in hundreds of hours planning and developing regulations since the wind farm proposal came to light. “Our business is centered around having good roads and maintaining and improving them,” he said.
Although townships have similar authority to develop regulations and agreements, Beck suggests they pass resolutions to have the county handle permits for them. He said nine townships have done so, including four involved with possible wind farms. Beck said the county is responsible for bridges on township roads.
County Commissioner Tim Wert, who has been working with Keller to get an agreement with the wind farm company, said the road maintenance issue has economic and safety aspects. He said there has been talk that an exploration company could have 900 to 1,300 loads to an individual drilling site while a well is under construction.
“The exploration people should not have a free hand to damage the roads and water and have the public pay for it,” Wert said. “It’s important to me for the movement of schoolchildren, people driving to work and our safety forces so they don’t encounter any problems. We have a liability to repair the roads, because they will come after us for damages.”
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