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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

is located.

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

steep fines.

“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

timing.”

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

restriction period.

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

Jennifer Strawn

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

permit.

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

truck.

“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.

0regulations/continues on page 22

20/ March 2006 Water Well Journal NGWA.org


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

court system.

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

restrictions.

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

business.

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

NGWA.org

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