Panel discusses agriculture's transportation concerns at legislative meeting
Cheyenne – Agricultural transportation has been a hot topic for many producers recently, and with drought concerns continuing into 2013, producers are looking for answers to their questions about new transportation policies.
“We have had lot of questions about the implications of the new MAP-21 policy and the exemptions that agriculture has received,” said Wyoming Farm Bureau Executive Vice President Ken Hamilton at the organization’s annual legislative meeting on Feb. 18-19. “We’ve also had questions around issues for hauling hay.”
As a result, Wyoming Highway Patrol’s Colonel John Butler, along with Captain Scott Montgomery and Lieutenant Doug Dome, addressed concerns of Wyoming’s producers.
Working with producers
“After taking this position last April, the partnership between the Wyoming Highway Patrol and the ag community was never more evident than in this last year with the drought,” commented Butler.
He further noted that following the 2012 drought, he began working with the Governor’s Office to develop a bill providing for extra allowances during economic hardship.
“Last year, we recognized that there were restrictions in place in statutes that didn’t allow us to do much,” he explained. “We worked with the Governor’s Office and came together will a bill that gives some allowances for extreme economic hardship.”
The legislation would allow the Wyoming Highway Patrol to adjust more of their policies in the event of emergencies, while still keeping safety measures in mind.
Butler also mentioned that they work to be reasonable in their enforcement, but it can be difficult working with a large and diverse team of people.
“If there is one thing I could teach in the Academy, I would teach common sense,” he commented. “We talk about common sense, compassion and understanding with our patrolmen.”
“Another thing that has been apparent is I don’t think we have been strong enough in educating the ag community,” said Butler. “Now, we are trying to prepare everyone ahead of time so they understand what they have to do to comply.”
He added that they are working to meet with commercial carrier officers to understand the issues.
“In the Big Horn Basin during beet harvest, the perception is that the highway patrol shows up during harvest, and they feel like they are targeted,” said Hamilton.
Mobile enforcement teams are periodically assigned to specific locations during the year, said Butler.
“During last year’s beet harvest, we brought our mobile enforcement teams in and found there were people who didn’t understand some regulations,” he said, noting that the teams were working to make sure that regulations were being complied with, including load limits.
Butler added that mobile enforcement teams are deployed throughout the state throughout the year. He also noted that they look for load weights and safety issues, and they stop every commercial vehicle during those checks.
“In the Basin, we have four to five mobile enforcement teams up there throughout the year,” added Montgomery. “The only ones that affect agriculture producers are the ones who show up during harvest. If you aren’t affected, you probably won’t notice.”
Butler additionally mentioned that they are willing to work with producers in their checks, saying, “We’re certainly willing to come in ahead of time and help you identify safety concerns and answer questions.”
Ports of entry
Producers also expressed concern about the lack of consistency and education between workers at the Ports of Entry into Wyoming.
“We have found inconsistency in our ports, and that is unacceptable,” said Butler. “We are working on that.”
He mentioned specifically that they are working to educate port workers with in-service education days.
“It is getting better,” he added, “but we aren’t anywhere near where we want to be.”
At the same time, he asked producers to provide comments based on the service at ports of entry, so that problems can be fixed.
“If you feel that you have been mistreated, please send a comment card to our headquarters, and we will respond. Professionalism and courtesy is something I demand from our employees,” he commented.
President Obama signed MAP-21, or the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act, into law on July 6, 2012, and a number of producers have concerns about the policy.
“MAP-21 is a milestone for the U.S. economy and the nation’s surface transportation program,” says the U.S. Federal Highway Administration website. “MAP-21 creates a streamlined and performance-based surface transportation program and builds on many of the highways, transit, bike and pedestrian programs and policies established in 1991.”
The policy establishes a handful of new regulations that could affect ag producers.
“In the new legislation, it says that within 150 air miles from a ranch or farm, drivers are not required to have a CDL (commercial driver’s license),” explained Dome. “Whoever is operating for you within 150 air miles is exempt from certain things, and one of those will be the CDL requirement.”
However, he added that the proper class of driver’s license will still be required. For truck and trailer combinations, that means any combination weight exceeding 26,001 pounds requires a Class A driver’s license, explained Dome.
“The difference between a CDL and Class A license is that you don’t have to have a drug and alcohol testing program or a DOT (Department of Transportation) physical,” he said, also noting that the cost to obtain the license also varies between a CDL and Class A.
Additionally, MAP-21 will exempt producers traveling within the 150-air-mile radius from an annual inspection.
“The only requirements are that the company name and USDOT number are required and the proper safety equipment must be present,” said Dome.
Butler noted that they have developed a brochure to identify rules and regulations related to agriculture called, A Simple Guide to Ag Operations. The guide will be released when rules and regulations are finalized.
To contact the Wyoming Highway Patrol, visit whp.dot.state.wy.us/wydot or call 307-777-4301.