If 80 percent of success is showing up, the forestry community in Meriwether County had a good day Wednesday. More than sixty timberland owners, wood dealers and loggers overflowed into the lobby of the Meriwether County Commission’s Boardroom where timber harvesting, road damage and unreported harvests were the topics du jour.
The level of interest in the meeting was heightened by an erroneous rumor that the County was on the verge of reducing the maximum allowable vehicle weight to 56,000 pounds. Despite the fact that the law would not allow the County to take such action, the suggestion alone ratcheted up the interest.
Meriwether, among Georgia’s poorest counties, is heavily dependent on its timber production, a point that was acknowledged by Commissioners and participants numerous times during the meeting. As one landowner said, “This County is tied to trees like a brother is to a sister!”
Road damage in the County is real, though, no one questioned the point that many of the roads were built and maintained in a substandard manner.
Asked one major wood dealer: “If we are obeying the law, whose responsibility is it to repair the roads?” Clearly it is the responsibility of the County.
As to the problem of timber harvests taking place without notification to the County, Commission Chair Nancy Jones said she felt like they “are being snubbed” by timber owners who are simply not informing the County that a harvest is taking place. However, a County employee estimated that only six harvests in three years had resulted in non-payment of the harvest tax.
It is clear that voters are putting substantial pressure on Commissioners to do something about the deteriorating condition of local roads. It is also clear that the solution lies in increased shared funding by the local government and the State. However, money for transportation is scarce and the need is statewide, not just in Meriwether.
“County leaders must get involved with the Joint Study Committee on Critical Transportation Infrastructure Funding,” urged GFA President Steve McWilliams. “And the forestry community must be right there with them, willing to stand by legislators who will have to make a tough vote if any real progress will be made toward meeting the state’s transportation needs for the next 20 to 30 years.”
McWilliams continued: “It may not be our responsibility to repair and maintain the roads that we use to transport our products from the woods to the processing facility, but the forestry community certainly has a responsibility to actively support the best ideas aimed at solving the problem.”
Near the end of the work session, Commissioners made it clear that they had no intention of reducing truck weights in the County. The Commission will organize a county-industry study committee to continue addressing local circumstances.