The Jackson County Highway Department signed a Road Maintenance and Upgrade Agreement (RUMA) with Meteor Timber Tuesday during their monthly board meeting, allowing the mine to haul silica sand on Hwy. O near the town of Millston all year round.
Meteor Timber was looking to get a RUMA from the Jackson County Highway Department because it would allow them to use Hwy. O year-round to haul sand to their rail loadout facility. Without the agreement, the mine would only be able to haul when there were no weight restrictions on the road.
“You have us by the throat if we don’t comply because then we can’t haul, which essentially makes the business not work,” Chris Mathis, project manager for Meteor Timber, said explaining that Meteor Timber is very motivated to adhere to the RUMA.
In exchange for Meteor Timber being allowed year-round access to the road, they will also be improving Hwy. O to an all-seasons road and be providing a fund to help with maintenance.
“It really follows in line with the other agreements that we have out there with Goose Creek Landing and Croell, but it does differ in that those were all temporary sites, this is more of a permanent site,” Jackson County Highway Commissioner Randy Anderson said during the meeting.
The deal is permanent and would pass on to any company that bought the rights to the Meteor Timber site.
“As long as all of the financial requirements of the contract are in place, any future party will get the assignment for this agreement. If any party, including Meteor, at some point of time violates the terms of the agreement, you have the authority to shut the road down to the hauler until we are in compliance with it,” said John Wagman of Mallery and Zimmerman who was representing Meteor Timber at the meeting.
One of the more problematic portions of the RUMA for Meteor Timber is section 20, which requires Meteor Timber to comply with applicable laws including the vehicle idling and emissions ordinance and noise ordinance the town of Millston recently enacted.
“We are finished with them. We passed whatever we think we needed to pass and that is my main responsibility. I am disappointed because I think that is also the county’s main responsibility,” town of Millston chair Dan Smrekar said. “The whole big deal with me is the health and safety of the people of Millston and that’s it. I believe there is a real health and safety problem.”
Mathis said that if the ordinances are enforceable, then section 20 would require them to be in compliance with the town of Millston ordinances.
“I think constitutionality may be an issue,” Wagman said hinting that Meteor Timber may at some point fight the legality of the ordinances the town of Millston put in place.
Before Meteor Timber can haul any sand on the roads, they must first make upgrades to the entire eight-mile stretch they will be hauling sand on, making it an all-seasons road since no current portion of Hwy. O would be able to handle those loads.
“We hired American Engineering Testing to map out the different portions of County Trunk Highway O. They deemed that some of it had to have an overlay of so many inches, some of it had to be reconstructed. SEH also took a look at the intersection there of Country Trunk Highway O and U.S. Hwy. 12,” Anderson said. “That’s what we are looking at is having it upgraded to what American Engineering Testing and SEH said it needs in order to take those loads.”
These upgrades would also include widening and striping the side of Hwy. O to five feet between Hwy. 12 and Interstate 94 so the intersection is safer for ATV drivers.
The Jackson County Highway Department would be responsible for maintaining the road, with help from a maintenance account funded by Meteor Timber. Meteor Timber will put in 25 cents for every ton of sand they haul on Hwy. O.
Once the fund reaches $300,000, Meteor Timber can suspend putting money in the fund until it reaches $200,000.
The RUMA also allows the county to adjust the speed limit on Hwy. O if they felt the increased traffic was leading to unsafe conditions on the road.
“We also talked about that if it was your all’s wish to lower the speed limit, we’d be obviously accommodating to that to the extent there was a traffic concern. You have the ability in this document to control the speed limit,” Mathis said.
One of the larger problems the RUMA discussed was those related to bridge #915 over Robinson Creek just outside of Millston. The bridge is in need of repairs and has been put on the list to receive federal funding.
“We did the calculation based on what remains with the beams and the state that they are in and the loading, and we believe that at this time the bridge will carry the traffic and proposed truck traffic,” Dave Simons, engineer with SEH, said. “I would agree with Randy that at some point that bridge, being that the beams are starting to deteriorate, it will need to be replaced at some point, but at least getting started with the operation, the bridge we don’t believe will be an issue for the first few years.”
Federal funding for the bridge project is not expected for four to five years, but if improvements are needed before then, Meteor Timber can use the maintenance funds to help pay for the project.
“If it impacts that bridge where the bridge is taken out of service or has to be posted, then they have the right to use the maintenance funds if there are any maintenance funds, or use their own funding to make that bridge usable. That bridge will be a stickler in time,” Anderson said.
Meteor Timber felt like no matter what happened on the federal level, the bridge and the route in general is worth the investment.
“It is in our best interest for the bridge to be safe too, for the extent that you don’t get federal funds which is plan A, then we are plan B and we know that. We are going to make sure that it is taken care of,” Mathis said explaining that this is truly the only route available. “We can’t use any town roads and so it’s just not feasible
When the bridge is taken out of service, Meteor Timber is also allowed to use the maintenance account to fund a temporary structure so Meteor Timber trucks can pass.
Meteor Timber is working through wetland issues right now, but plans to start road construction at the same time that they start plant construction.
Smrekar ultimately wants to protect the citizens of the town of Millston.
“I do not want anybody to think that I am against Meteor or I am against any type of business or anything. It has nothing to do with that. Not even a little bit. It is purely the health and safety of the people and the commerce that goes on in Millston. If it is unsafe, we will lose tourists. Pure and simple. And I guess if that that little bit that comes from Meteor is more important that the commerce from a couple of the industries in the town, I guess that is the way they feel,” Smrekar said.