New rules will apply to milk haulers driving on roads in Chippewa County this spring. Part of that plan includes a $100 permit fee for each milk truck. Milk haulers also must attend a mandatory meeting to work through the required permitting procedures in order to receive that permit to travel county roads and haul milk for the county’s 177 dairy herds.
“Hauling above the spring road ban weight limits without a permit to do so may result in a costly citation, therefore it is very important that milk haulers attend one of the meetings to obtain a permit for each of their trucks,” wrote Brian Kelley, highway commissioner for the Chippewa County Highway Department, in a letter dated December 20, 2022.
This marks the second time a Wisconsin county has looked to place road restrictions on the dairy industry. Last year, nearby Price County attempted to limit milk truck traffic as detailed in “A Wisconsin county poised to stop milk trucks.”
Why the action?
“In March of 2021, the County Highway Department was forced to close County Highway F (from State Highway 64 to County Highway M) due to damage from unknown heavy loads being transported during the annual spring road ban period,” wrote Kelley of the need for Chippewa County’s action. “The financial impact to the county taxpayers for the damages to this seven-mile stretch of pavement has now exceeded $1.7 million.
“As a result of these damages, the county has undertaken an extensive process to improve enforcement of weight limit laws and also to educate the public on these laws. Pavement is extremely susceptible to damage during the spring road ban period, which usually averages about six weeks in February, March, and/or April,” continued the highway commissioner who invoked the roadway changes to milk haulers.
The Chippewa County Highway Commissioner did hold two meetings on June 28, 2022, and again on August 2, 2022, to gather public input. In addition to Chippewa Highway Department staff and the County Sheriff Department members, other attendees included representatives from the Wisconsin State Patrol, the Wisconsin Farm Bureau, and the Organic Valley Co-op. A number of local milk haulers and one dairy farmer also attended the pair of meetings orchestrated by Chippewa County. However, the greater Wisconsin dairy industry, including six major dairy cooperatives and the cheese processing plants operating in that region, were not at the meetings involving this matter.
In the December 20, 2022, letter, Kelley detailed the importance of the matter from a county perspective.
“At this time, it is important that you are aware of the decision that I have reached based on input from these work group meetings,” wrote Kelley. “I have enclosed some of the common truck and axle configurations that we looked at during our discussions, along with the allowable weights that will be permitted on each truck axle this spring.” Those configurations are on pages three, four, and five of Kelley’s letter.
“My staff will be reaching out to your milk haulers to work on permitting their trucks in an effort to better utilize their existing equipment, while minimizing the impact on the roads,” continued the Chippewa County official working in a Wisconsin county that was home to nearly 25,000 cows at the last USDA Census of Agriculture. “We understand that there are many types of trucks that may not be shown in these examples. I’m asking for your assistance in making sure all of the county’s milk haulers and dairies are aware of the county’s plans going forward, beginning with the 2023 spring road bans.”
While not stated in the letter, it appears that the dairy industry has been implicated as the sole reason for the deterioration in Chippewa County roads as no other industry is required to obtain permits.
“The 2021 pavement damages on County Highway F were 100% preventable and served as a costly reminder that we must all work together on a common goal to protect our county’s valuable infrastructure,” wrote Kelley. “Quality roads are a benefit to all users, including milk haulers. I truly appreciate the cooperation of our county’s dairy industry in achieving this goal,” he wrote at the close of the letter.
A number of questions
Upon reading the new ruling from Chippewa County, the Hoard’s Dairyman editors sent questions to Highway Commissioner Kelley. Those questions and the responses are as follows:
1. Typically, Wisconsin counties have granted weight restriction waivers to fuel trucks and septic service trucks. Does Chippewa County offer such waivers to these service vehicles? If yes, will these industries also require a permit in 2023?
There are only three types of loads that are statutorily exempted from seasonal weight limits in Wisconsin. No permit or waiver would need to be issued for these because, in certain situations, these trucks are legally permitted by state law to haul loads that are heavier than our seasonal postings. These three exceptions can be found in State Statute 349.16(3)(b) and are:
A. A vehicle that is used to transport material pumped from a septic or holding tank if, because of health concerns, material needs to be removed from a septic or holding tank within 24 hours after the vehicle owner or operator is notified and if the vehicle is operated for the purpose of emptying the septic or holding tank and disposing of its contents and is operated on a route that minimizes travel on highways subject to weight limitations imposed under sub. (1) (a).
B. A vehicle operated by or at the direction of a public utility, as defined in s. 196.01 (5), a telecommunications provider, as defined in s. 196.01 (8p), or a cooperative association organized under ch. 185 for the purpose of producing or furnishing heat, light, power, or water to its members, that is being operated for the purpose of responding to a service interruption.
C. A motor vehicle that is being operated to deliver propane for heating purposes if the gross weight imposed on the highway by the vehicle does not exceed 30,000 pounds, for a vehicle with a single rear axle, or 40,000 pounds for a vehicle with tandem rear axles, and, if the motor vehicle is a tank vehicle, the tank is loaded to no more than 50% of the capacity of the tank.
2. In reviewing the letter, we see only one dairy cooperative was invited to be a part of the working group and no cheese or dairy plants. What was the reason for that decision as Land O'Lakes, Edge, FarmFirst, AMPI, Foremost, and Ellsworth dairy cooperatives all have substantial footprints in the region? As we know, milk crosses county lines. In the same view, the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association and the Cooperative Network could have been good sounding boards.
We created a group of stakeholders from across the county with varying interests (milk haulers, farmers, the Wisconsin Farm Bureau, law enforcement, etc).
It was not feasible to include every business involved in each of these activities in a work group. The one dairy cooperative that participated had reached out to us with questions and asked if they could participate in the work group at that time.
One of the main reasons for the December 20, 2022, letter was to identify all of the other milk haulers in the county. We were told that there was no database or list at DATCP (Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection) or the Wisconsin Farm Bureau that had a complete list of the haulers. We did get a list of all licensed milk producers from DATCP and decided to send the letter to each of those milk producers to ask for their help in making sure none of the milk haulers were missed.
We could have opted to send the letter to the area dairy cooperatives instead, however, we have also been told that some of the milk also goes out of state. Sending the letter to the farmers seemed to be the safest route to make sure none of the milk haulers were missed.
3. In 2023, what specific weight restrictions will be placed on milk trucks in Chippewa County during the spring thaw?
We have attempted to capture all of the common axle configurations for milk trucks in order to spell out the allowable haul weights during the seasonal weight limits for each type of truck. These are shown on pages three through five of the letter. Overweight citations may be issued for hauling above these axle weights or for operating without a permit.
We’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback from milk haulers on the outcome of this process. By involving farmers, milk haulers, law enforcement, the Wisconsin Farm Bureau, and the Highway Department in the process, we all have gained a much better understanding of each other’s challenges. I’m very pleased with the outcome of the process and grateful for all of the stakeholders that participated in the meetings.
4. Once permits are issued this year, how does Chippewa County intend to handle further damage to county roadways?
Law enforcement will continue to patrol county highways to minimize the number of illegal loads hauled on seasonally posted roads. We will continue to deny permit requests for divisible overweight loads during the seasonal weight limit period.
We are never going to stop all road damage. The county's maintenance budget will continue to fund pavement repairs as necessary.
If pavement is damaged by negligence and we determine who caused the damage, we can charge the negligent entity up to triple the repair costs per State Statute 86.02. This statute states: “Any person who shall injure any highway by obstructing or diverting any creek or watercourse or sluiceway, or by dragging logs or timber thereon, or by any other act, shall be liable in treble damages, to be recovered by the political division chargeable with the maintenance of highway injured, and the amount recovered shall be credited to the highway maintenance fund.”