Current county road permits for oversized and overweight vehicles as well as road haul agreements was a hot topic during the Holt County Board of Supervisors meeting on May 31 at the courthouse in O'Neill with more than 30 people attending.
Questions and concerns were focused on how the county's permitting system came about as well as the threat of Transportation Partners and Logistics (TP&L) Management Solutions, owner of the trans-loading facility for wind turbine equipment near Cargill, pulling its company out of O'Neill.
The county's current road permit system was approved unanimously by the board of supervisors during its meeting on Oct. 31, 2018.
The permit system is designed for oversized or overweight vehicles using county roads that have more than eight axles and/or require a flag or pilot car. Under those two requirements large businesses that fall within those categories have the option to contact the supervisors and/or county road department to set up a road haul agreement.
If a road haul agreement is not required individuals or businesses need to buy a $25 permit from the Holt County Road Department and will be charged an addition $175 road and maintenance fee per load.
Within the last few years several damaged road issues due to large scale projects in the county spurred the board to look at implementing a permit system like the Nebraska Department of Roads currently has in place for all state roads. Similar permit systems also are being used in 36 of Nebraska's 93 counties. Holt County now makes 37.
TP&L Vice President Billy Brenton was present at the meeting to discuss why the company has not signed a road haul agreement and does not agree with having to pay the $200 fee.
"The road haul permit is for projects. I have tried to indicate when we first came to town that we are not a project. We want to be a business that stays here for a long time. So we can't be addressed as a project. We are a company that is going to stay here," Brenton said.
Since TP&L became "aware" of the county's permitting process it has threatened to take its business elsewhere.
"We employ 31 people here. My site director Sheldon (Reynolds) bought a house here. We don't want to leave. This permit will force us to leave … It will make this site disappear. We are trying to save the site desperately. We have four more years of contracts for this location," he said.
According to Holt County Board of Supervisors Chairman Bill Tielke the process for the road permit policies began in 2010 when the county and TransCanada developed a road haul agreement for the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline route.
"We spent months on a road haul agreement with TransCanada getting it ironed out. We still have a road haul agreement with them even after they left," Tielke said.
During the construction of the Grande Prairie Wind Project near Page, BHE Renewable also formed a road haul agreement with the county.
"When BHE Renewables came along we entered into a road haul agreement. They spent about $6.3 million on improvement that you, taxpayers, would have paid had we not had a road haul agreement."
TP&L previously worked with Vestas during the construction of the Grand Prairie Wind Project storing components on 17 acres. It expanded its facility in September 2017 purchasing and leasing 156 acres east of Cargill. The company only transports and stores parts for turbines, it does not build wind turbines. TP&L also uses the former Bomgaars building to store other equipment.
Since its expansion the supervisors have received complaints about damages to area roadways as well as the roadways being blocked for several days due to the unloading of wind tower components. In both these cases, TP&L has expressed it is not at fault since it neither owns the trucks nor the rail carts that deliver the components.
According to Tielke, the board originally tried to establish a road haul agreement on Sept. 18, 2017, with TP&L. The board voted to authorize the Holt County Attorney to contact Jim McNally Law Firm to develop a road haul agreement with the company.
"At that time we were basically told we (TP&L) will not do a road haul agreement. So we tried it a second time on Jan. 31, 2018. Same deal. When it became evident we were not going to get a road haul agreement, it was suggested to us to do road permits," he said. "This is not something that just popped up a month ago. This has been going on since Sept. 18, 2017. We have been trying to work out an agreement. The road haul agreement is what the county asked for and wanted to do just like we have done with other companies."
After members of the board of supervisors heard TP&L was threatening to pull its company from O'Neill they requested Holt County Attorney Brent Kelly to meet with the company's local lawyer Boyd Strope.
"The problem is we don't own the trucks. It is hard for me to sign an agreement on a road that I don't tear up … So that is why I have had a difficult time signing a road haul agreement," Brenton said. "We are not just a pipeline company blowing through town. We want to stay in O'Neill. So that is why it is tough for us to sign a road permit we don't control. We don't control the trucks. So we have come up with a proposal."
At that time, Strope presented an agreement to the supervisors.
"The main thing that we kept in the agreement was a line of credit. That seemed to be what the county wanted or was the most important thing if there was any damage to the road," Strope said. "As we talk there are no damages, but TP&L is still wanting to go ahead. What TP&L has agreed to is a $125,000 letter of credit. It will probably never be used."
Strope also said, "The other item addressed was road closures. The road closure problem is strictly Burlington Northern Railroads problem. They have to break that train nightly. They are not here as a business. Their people come up here. There are times when they have left without breaking the train. TP&L has no control over breaking the train," Strope said.
Strope put a clause in the agreement that the county as well as TP&L recognize it is a Burlington Northern Railroad issue.
"This may not even be an issue in the future. Most of you know Cargill is building a second rail. If I understand correctly that will alleviate most, if not completely, the road closure problems," he said.
The county supervisors agreed to temporarily put the permit fees on hold until the board of supervisors regular meeting on Monday, June 17. If an agreement is not met at that time, the permitting fees will be reinstated.
"We want to keep Holt County a welcoming county to businesses … But we do want to protect our roads and keep our taxes as low as possible," Tielke said.