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Oil haulers still on the hook for municipal work

ELDON, Sask. - Although the Saskatchewan government has promised more money for roads, cash-strapped rural municipalities (RMs) say they may still need to boost the number of road maintenance agreemen...

ELDON, Sask. – Although the Saskatchewan government has promised more money for roads, cash-strapped rural municipalities (RMs) say they may still need to boost the number of road maintenance agreements with trucking companies to pay for damage caused by heavy trucks.

Sinclair Harrison, president of the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities (SARM), says that the province granted RMs the power to charge trucking companies a fee for excessive use on their roads years ago. However, he adds that in the last three years the number of agreements has significantly increased. There are now about 12 to 15 agreements in Saskatchewan.

“If you’re familiar with the road system, you know that we don’t have the resources to keep them dust-free and maintained due to the high truck traffic,” explains Harrison. “RMs are now looking at these agreements to offset these costs.”

That doesn’t sit well with Jim Friesen, general manager of the Saskatchewan Trucking Association (STA).

“These agreements are increasing and the STA was not approached when they were being implemented,” he complains. “It came to us as a surprise that the RMs and the government were implementing these agreements.”

It was so much of a surprise that many drivers received tickets because they did not realize they were in violation of any agreements. There were usually no signs indicating road maintenance agreements applied to hauling on particular roads.

“The amount of these fines are outrageous. They are out of whack with reality.”

Harrison says he understands that notifying drivers is a problem with these agreements, but SARM is working on solutions. One idea is to develop a Web site indicating where the agreements are in effect.

Friesen says that the STA will continue to lobby against the agreements because many of them involve gravel parallel roads. Instead of paying a fee for maintaining a separate route, Friesen suggests that the primary, thin membrane roads be upgraded for heavy traffic.

Kevin Melle, administrator for the RM of Eldon No. 471, near Weyburn, says his jurisdiction has had road maintenance agreements in place since 1995 to recoup costs for roads damaged by oil and gravel rigs.

“We have lots of oil in our area and in recognition of the damage they inflict on the road, we had to develop road maintenance agreements,” says Melle. “We have a 10:1 ratio for the number of oil vehicles compared to agriculture, so the agreements are targeted at that industry.”

The RM has three major east-west roads and two see about 100 trucks a day. To keep costs fair, Melle says the formula takes into account the average low mileage haul for each truck, which they determined to be four miles.

Each oil truck is then charged 3.8 cents per ton-mile times four miles for each trip.

This formula is much easier for determining fees than using the actual ton-mile amount.

Melle says it would be very difficult for trucking companies to maintain the amount of oil they carry from one station to the next. The trucking company then pays a monthly fee to the municipality.

Melle adds that even with the amount collected through the road maintenance agreement, the budget still comes up short.

Despite the added fees to trucking companies, Melle says there are some advantages to the companies.

“We allow them to haul overweight,” he says.

“They can’t operate at primary weights, but they can run up to SGI (Saskatchewan Government Insurance) insurable weights for their vehicles.”

Melle says the increase in road maintenance agreements can be partly attributed to the decreased funding from the province.

Despite the tremendous royalty fees that the oil industry pays to the government ($900 million last year) a percentage of it is not earmarked to the RMs from where the oil was pumped.

Gloria Johnson, administrator of the RM of Oakdale No. 320, near Kerrobert, says her RM has had a road maintenance agreement with Spur Services, which hauls for the oil industry along an 11-km road, for many years.

“There was extra wear and tear on that road, so to help maintain it, we needed help,” she says.

The RM receives money from Spur, which is placed in the RM’s general revenue account.

Dwayne Klenk of Spur Services says that the road maintenance agreement is a fair deal.

“There’s the odd grain truck and some half-tons on the road, but we are hitting that road pretty hard.” He adds that he doesn’t mind paying his share.

“As long as it’s fair.” n

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