ules & regulations/
Spring “Weight” or Spring “Wait” Restrictions?
Frost laws in some states sideline drilling rigs and leave homeowners on hold.
By Jennifer Strawn
State and county road maps for Minnesota and
Wisconsin wallpaper Richard Thron’s office
at Mantyla Drilling, but it’s not because his
crews often get lost on their way to job sites.
Instead, the maps help Thron keep track of seasonal
load restrictions in the two states and 10 counties
surrounding Lakewood, Minnesota, where his company
During the springtime thaw each year, many
states, counties, and municipalities in the northern
United States institute weight restrictions on roads
in order to save them from damage. Roads that
can normally withstand 9 tons per axel can be posted
as low as 3 tons per axel, which makes it impossible
to drive a water truck or a rig across it without incurring
“The material below the roadway freezes and it
expands much like water does,” explains Roger
Renner of E.H. Renner & Sons in Elk River,
Minnesota. “In a lot of areas water is fairly close to
roadways and the road will buckle, which destroys it.”
The restrictions are common in states including
Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, North Dakota,
South Dakota, New York, and New Hampshire.
As a result, for eight to 10 weeks out of the year
contractors are forced to find alternate routes, turn
down jobs, or apply for an overweight permit.
The lengths of the restrictions vary from state to
state, county to county, and even from township to
township. Some restrictions start appearing in
February and some in March. Some are lifted earlier
than others, depending on the amount of frost. This
year, contractors in Minnesota predict that the
warmer than usual winter will cause the restrictions
to go up sooner and hopefully not last as long.
“If they start early they typically come off early,”
Renner says. “But if there’s an early thaw and then
severe cold temperatures, that could extend the
Because most water well contractors’ equipment
is considered overweight, Thron relies on rescheduling
and rerouting to keep business at a steady level
during the thawing period. If a job will require
heavy equipment and is located in an area with
posted roads, he tries to schedule it before or after
the restrictions go into effect. Lighter weight jobs,
such as system upgrades, are reserved for the eightweek
If that can’t be accomplished, Thron tries to find
alternate routes to avoid posted roads. And if that
fails, he hires a nearby drilling company.
“We’ve gotten creative up here,” Thron admits.
“I’ve got a pool of drillers that I sometimes draw
from. I’ve got a guy that has a real small rig, and if I
really have a need and he has the ability to drill the
well in that specific area, I’ve hired him and gotten a
is the associate editor of Water Well Journal.
During spring weight restrictions Richard Thron's rig is overweight. When a homeowner is out of water,
Thron often needs a special permit in order to get his equipment to the job site.
permit to get in because I can provide a smaller
piece of equipment.”
In emergency situations, such as an out-of-water
call, many counties will issue overweight permits.
The permits can take anywhere from a few hours to
receive up to three days to get in some places. They
also often come with a set of stipulations.
For example, variances in Minnesota can include
stipulations that allow contractors to drive their
overweight vehicles across the posted road only during
the hours of 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. — when the roads
are the most solid due to colder temperatures. Other
times contractors will receive a variance only if they
can reduce the weight.
Thron says he won’t accept a permit if excessive
stipulations are added.
“We’ve got one county that says, ‘Yeah, I’ll give
you a permit to go in and do that well because that
family is out of water, but we want you to be responsible
for that road through the total duration of the
road restrictions,’ and I won’t do that,” Thron
asserts. “The garbage trucks go up and down there.
The sewer pumpers go up and down there. Who
knows what other delivery trucks go up and down
that road that can cause failure to the roadbed?
I won’t do that.”
The permits are usually given on a case-by-case
basis and the road condition plays a large part in
whether or not a contractor will receive the permit,
says Tom Martinelli, winter operations manager for
the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.
In order to up his chances of receiving an overweight
permit for an out-of-water call, Thron will
sometimes ask the homeowners to apply for the
Although permits can be a hassle
to obtain, the penalties for driving
an overweight truck on a posted
road are worse. Fines can be up to
$1 a pound in some states and
many rigs can be overweight by
several thousand pounds.
If a contractor asks for the permit, “they think
we’re trying to create work for our crews at road
restriction time when we’re really just trying to take
care of the customer,” Thron says.
Although permits can be a hassle to obtain, the
penalties for driving an overweight truck on a posted
road are worse. Fines can be up to $1 a pound in
some states and many rigs can be overweight by
several thousand pounds. Thron said a contractor in
his area was fined $6000 for driving an overweight
“He could have added an axel under that truck
for about $5000 (and the truck would have been
legal),” Thron reasons. Seasonal weight restrictions
often apply only to the weight on each axel — not a
vehicle’s gross weight. Adding a tag axel to better
distribute weight doesn’t work on all rigs, but is possible
on smaller cable tool rigs.
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egulations/from page 20
Some contractors who are sick of
rerouting, being turned down for permits,
and being fined for overweight
vehicles are taking their complaints
about the weight restrictions to the
Bob Webb, a Michigan contractor
with R. Webb and Son Drilling Inc.,
says receiving permits — even in
emergency situations — was next to
impossible in some of the counties
where he drilled.
“Very often officials denied you
outright,” Webb claims. In other situations
counties required the homeowners
to sign notarized statements
swearing they were out of water.
A distraught customer called
Webb on a holiday weekend, complaining
that his well had stopped
producing water. After examining the
well, an employee of Webb Well
Drilling determined the well needed
to be replaced.
Webb’s employee parked the
repair rig 400 feet from the customer’s
house and drove the backhoe
to the customer’s property. But as
enforcement officers found, even the
backhoe was overweight. Webb
needed a permit from the county road
commission before he could move the
needed equipment to the customer’s
22/ March 2006 Water Well Journal
property. He received the permit, but
because of the holiday, was forced to
wait several days.
Public utility vehicles are exempt
from seasonal weight restrictions in
Michigan statutes. Webb argued that
water well drilling rigs should be considered
a public utility, and thus be
exempt from the seasonal weight
Ogenaw County, Michigan, Judge
Richard Noble agreed and found that
Webb Well Drilling is considered a
public utility. For the exemption to
apply, the driller has to contact the
county road commission 48 hours
before moving the rig to the site. The
road commission is then required to
give the permit.
Minnesota also has a public utility
exemption, but water well equipment
does not qualify. Thron says he doesn’t
think having a court declare him
a public utility would do much to
ease the effect of load limits on his
Public utility or not, seasonal load
limits are simply a fact of life in the
area where Thron does business. But
if Mother Nature continues to be on
his side this year, he just might be
able to take the maps down from his
walls a little earlier. WWJ