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Renville County to consider overweight permits for harvest

OLIVIA — Farmers are harvesting larger (and heavier) crops from the fields of Renville County every year, but one thing is not changing.

The harvest season for perishable crops such as sugar beets is not getting any longer.

It’s a part of the argument presented Tuesday to the Renville County Board of Commissioners as farmers from around the county asked the county to issue 10 percent overweight permits during the harvest season.

The permits would allow five-axle trucks to carry loads up to 10 percent heavier than the 80,000-pound maximum set by state statute.

The county has not issued the 10 percent overweight permits in previous years, although the Minnesota Department of Transportation issues them for portions of state highways in the county. The state permit allows trucks carrying heavier loads to reach the Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar Cooperative on U.S. Highway 212.

A number of farmers at the meeting said a 10 percent overweight permit for county roads would improve efficiency and reduce their costs as they race the clock in the autumn.

They noted that last year 30,000 acres of sugar beets could not be harvested. Frost struck before they could be lifted and transported to piling sites.

The commissioners said they would consider the possibility of issuing overweight permits, but only on specific, 10-ton roadways. They noted that the overweight trucks come with a major cost to the county: They shorten the lifespan of roads.

The county awarded a $10 million bond just one year ago in an effort to catch up on its road repair needs, they pointed out. The county has not seen an increase in state funding or local tax revenues for its road needs in the last decade, yet the costs for road maintenance have grown greatly. A roadway that could be rebuilt for $250,000 a mile now costs nearly a $1 million, said Commissioner Bob Fox.

The commissioners and County Engineer and Public Works Director Jeff Marlowe also said that some roads may be able to handle heavier loads, but bridges on those roads are already posted for weights below the 80,000-pound threshold. The bridge postings are limitations that cannot be changed unless the bridges are replaced.

The public works director will be drafting a list of potential county roadways to consider for overweight permits for the commissioners’ meeting next Tuesday.

At the upcoming meeting, they will also consider reissuing a permit to Transystems to continue using seven-axle, 70-foot-long tractor trailer combinations on county roads running directly from sugar beet piling sites to the 10-ton state highway system.

The county first began allowing the seven-axle trucks in 2010, when the company indicated it was investing $6 million in the units. The trucks can carry loads up to 97,000 pounds.

Studies show that distributing the weight over seven axles causes less wear and tear on roads.

And, the larger rigs mean there are fewer trips needed and fewer miles driven, reducing the risks for accidents accordingly. Mike Rood, of Transystems, told the commissioners that the permit for seven-axle units reduced the number of loads transported for Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar by 10,000 last year, representing 500,000 fewer miles of travel.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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