“I am concerned about why this industry is being singled out. I am sure there is more traffic on those roads than just milk trucks,” continued the young dairyman who farms near Boyd, Wis. “Honestly, it’s a bigger issue than just this county.
“The solution isn’t putting more and more restrictions on the roads,” he further explained. “The loads are not too heavy for the roads. It’s the other way around,” Holub said. “The fact is our roads are not heavy enough for the loads,” he said with the “roads not heavy enough” being a reference to the lack of investment in rural road infrastructure.
“These roads were built when we were hauling single-axle and tandem-axle trucks. That’s just not the case anymore,” said the Town of Colburn dairy farmer. “The loads are not getting any smaller, they are getting bigger. Putting more restrictions to save these roads as they are is a stopgap measure at best.”
“There are a lot of issues within this permit,” said Kim Bremmer, executive director of Venture Dairy Cooperative. “There are impacts at the farm level and the plant,” she said of logistics issues and long waits unloading at some plants. She went on to refer to a Kewaunee County dairy farmer who recently lost his milk hauler due to long wait times to unload milk. “Everything in this industry works on a very tight time frame, from milk on the farm, how it gets picked up, to when it gets to the plant,” Bremmer continued as she also made public comments at the opening of the Chippewa County Board of Supervisors monthly meeting.
“I can tell you this week that the Wisconsin Milk Haulers Association is working with the Governor’s office. They are formally requesting an emergency declaration to exempt milk haulers in this 2023 season,” shared Bremmer. Per current state statutes, only septic, public utility, and propane trucks are exempt from spring-thaw road bans.
“I am asking you, as a board, to consider not doing anything with this ordinance. It would definitely be a negative impact on your dairy farmers, your local processors, and it has implications throughout the state,” stated Bremmer. “It sets a bad precedence for your county. And there are things happening at the state level that we are hopeful for . . . and that we have not heard in the past.”
Action on the Chippewa ordinance
Later in the March meeting, the Chippewa County Board of Supervisors voted to suspend the second reading of the ordinance on the milk truck permit matter. The motion passed on an 18 to 2 vote.
After another motion, that brought the following item up for debate for potential insertion into Chippewa County Code of Ordinances 2-82(e):
Spring milk hauling permit. An annual spring hauling permit shall be obtained from the County Highway Department by a licensed milk hauler for each milk truck owned, leased, or operated by such licensed milk hauler prior to hauling loads of milk on county trunk highways that are subject to spring seasonal weight restrictions whenever such loads are to be in the excess of posted seasonal weight limits. An annual spring milk hauling permit will be granted for axle weight limits. An annual spring milk hauling permit will be granted for axle weights on seasonally posted county trunk highways that do not exceed eight (8) tons for the steer axle, six (6) tons for each pusher/tag axle, and eight (8) tons for each rear drive axle. There shall be no fee for the annual spring milk hauling permit.
“I would like to make a motion to amend that we, ‘Sunset this program after spring road bans are lifted in 2023,’” stated Supervisor Robert Teuteberg. The motion received a second. Then the debate ensued.
“The reason for that being, in digging into this matter, Chippewa County, it’s my understanding and belief, is a guinea pig for the state of Wisconsin on this matter,” said Teuteberg. “The State of Wisconsin is looking at us on how this is being rolled out and any pushback they are going to get.
“As we heard tonight, there is legislation at the state level to perhaps alleviate this problem. As it stands right now, I don’t think that there is the support in the community to go forward with this long term. I think there are other options that can be had. So, my motion would be to sunset, if it (the amendment) passes, at the end of the time the road bans are lifted,” continued the Chippewa County Supervisor.
Objections made to the idea
“I am going to oppose this amendment because I don’t trust the State to get something done in just a year,” Ken Schmitt. “We are going to end up playing out this entire scenario next year,” he said of the sunset amendment. “We have shown a light on an inadequacy in the state statute and now we put a potential target on our milk haulers. So, we need to rectify that issue. We need to keep it rectified until the state fixes this mess,” said Schmitt in speaking in favor of the permitting process beyond just one year. That’s when Schmitt talked about the larger issue at hand.
“The damage on (County) F . . . was not caused by milk trucks,” said Schmitt of a December 20, 2022, report by the Chippewa County Highway Commissioner. County F and its seven-mile stretch between State Highway 64 and County M was the flashpoint that set off this entire discussion. In March 2021, the County Highway Department was forced to close and repair it at a cost that exceeded $1.7 million. Even though County F is the flashpoint, the Hoard’s Dairyman staff did not observe an active dairy farm while driving the entire stretch of roadway.
“We have not seen substantial damage from a milk truck to any road to this point over the past 20 years. I don’t understand how more enforcement is going to get us to where we need to be. That is simply going to create a lot of problems for farmers and milk haulers if we are going to require them to meet the spring road bans. This problem needs to go away,” said the former dairy farmer of the overarching debate.
“By what we are doing in Chippewa County, the state’s watching today, everybody around the state is watching, we need to exempt milk trucks from the spring road bans and they will continue to operate in the future as they have in the past, contrary to road bans,” said Schmitt, who is vice chair of the Chippewa County Board of Supervisors. “It’s a perishable product and most of these trucks will be loaded heavier as they go to the factory. So, when they start out, they are not that heavy. It’s just at the tail end of the route. But they will be running on some banned roads probably overweight,” continued Schmitt.
“Milk haulers are on a tight schedule. When they get to the factory, they need to be able to get in their spot in line and get emptied so the next one can get in there. Because when that schedule gets screwed up, it can be a real mess. It was that way 20 years ago when I was dairy farming and it's worse now,” concluded Schmitt.
After some additional discussion took place, Chippewa County Board Chair Dean Gullickson called for a vote on the amendment. Needing a two-thirds majority for passage, it failed on a 10 to 10 vote.
Far beyond this county
This is not just a Chippewa County issue,” said Chippewa County Supervisor Jason Bergeron, who spoke to a number of area milk haulers in recent months on this issue.
“If the milk haulers really were the reason for the issues we had with the roads, we would have seen these problems a long time ago. Obviously, the loads are getting larger, but this did not happen overnight,” he continued. It’s at that point of the meeting that Bergeron offered an amendment that effectively would exempt milk truckers from spring road bans. That’s when Chippewa County Corporation Counsel Todd Pauls reviewed the legality of implementing the amendment.
After Dean Gullickson, Chippewa County Board Chair, alluded to the fact that the entire milk trucking ordinance and the potential amendment was a can of worms, Supervisor Bergeron, retorted, “I am trying to get through the can of worms so we are not on an island putting our milk haulers out there to dry when everyone else around us (other counties) is looking the other way . . . somehow, ‘No big deal.’ But for us, it was priority one to get something in place. So, I’m trying to open that can of worms and sort it out so we can give the state time to make this a fair playing field clear across our dairy state,” said Bergeron.
“I commend that,” responded Board Chair Gullickson. “I think we are all sitting here trying to figure this out as it was a good intention.”
“We have been talking about supply chain issues for three years, let’s not create one locally,” said Bergeron, doubling down on his thoughts.
After Corporation Counsel weighed in a second time on the potential amendment not yet brought up for a vote, Bergeron and the supervisor who seconded the motion withdrew the motion due to advice of Chippewa County legal counsel concerning its relationship to state statutes.
At that point, Chippewa County Highway Commissioner Brian Kelley offered that it might be plausible to strike the language related to the axle weights as that might resolve the issues raised by Supervisor Bergeron.
That’s when Supervisor Matthew Peterson made a motion, which was seconded by Supervisor Charles Bomar, to strike two sentences from the proposal for Section 5 to read:
Spring milk hauling permit. An annual spring hauling permit shall be obtained from the County Highway Department by a licensed milk hauler for each milk truck owned, leased, or operated by such licensed milk hauler prior to hauling loads of milk on county trunk highways that are subject to spring seasonal weight restrictions whenever such loads are to be in the excess of posted seasonal weight limits. There shall be no fee for the annual spring milk hauling permit.
After some discussion, the amendment passed on a 14 to 6 vote that exceeded the two-thirds requirement to pass an amendment to a motion. With those sentences wiped out of the measure, Chairman Gullickson called for a vote on the entire package that passed on a 16 to 4 vote.
As for the immediate outcomes:
- Milk haulers in Chippewa County will need to obtain a no-fee permit to haul milk during the spring road bans.
- That would result in a discussion between the Chippewa County Highway Commissioner and milk haulers as to the best routes and potential roadway weight limits during the spring thaw.
- The weight limits would be at the discretion of the Chippewa County Highway Commissioner
To comment, email your remarks to firstname.lastname@example.org. (c) Hoard's Dairyman Intel 2023 March 16, 2023