By Colin Tiernan
Via Wyoming News Exchange
DOUGLAS — One side sees smashed cattle guards, rain-softened roads mangled under the weight of more than 160,000 pounds, and permit dodging. The other side sees hundreds of thousands of dollars lost due to delays caused by overlying stringent enforcement.
At a public hearing before the Converse County Commissioners recently, Ron Auflick, Wold Energy’s head of operations, expressed his frustration with what he sees as excessive oversight of rig moves.
“We’ve had substantial involvement by the sheriff, in effect delaying our rig moves, inspecting every load,” Auflick said. “I checked with several other operators, and this isn’t normal.”
The county feels that inspections are necessary in order to ensure companies pay for the damage to roads.
“The whole purpose of this was to make things easier,” explained Tom Kelly, a Converse County Sheriff’s Office deputy in charge of permit enforcement. “If we know that the rig permit has been purchased, then I don’t need to stop every single vehicle and check permits.”
According to Auflick, delays from one specific hold-up amounted to a $140,000 expense for Wold.
“All the people out there, they’re on our payroll,” he said. “For some reason, nobody works for free.”
The county commissioners said they had not previously heard about the specific incident.
“This is the first time we have heard anything about that,” Commissioner Robert Short said later.
Commissioner Jim Willox said the Converse County rules for oversize/overweight moves are the same as the state’s.
“It mirrors WYDOT,” Willox said. “If you need a permit on a state highway, you need a permit on a county road.”
Auflick said that Wold, which has recently drilled five wells in the county, is tired of the time lost and the delays.
“I call it the Louisiana Shakedown,” he said. “I hate to use a term like that, but there seems to be a persistence to stop all rig haulers and check, and double check, and triple check, and that’s where the delay comes.”
The county commissioners, sheriff’s office, and Road & Bridge assured Auflick that there was no intention to disrupt operators, but that enforcement is necessary due to dishonest operators.
“We know how many trucks it takes to make (a rig) move,” Converse County Commission Chairman Rick Grant said. “If we know there’s a rig move and (the company) bought two permits, there’s 10 or 12 more trucks that aren’t permitted . . . so if they’re going to try to play that game, we’re going to have our deputies out there to keep them honest.”
The public hearing on June 5 was held to hear feedback about a proposed change in the Converse County Rules and Regulations Governing Vehicle Size, Weight, and Permitting.
With the change, the county will now require just one permit of $4,500 for each rig move, as opposed to charging smaller permits for each oversize/overweight vehicle involved in the move.
The Sheriff’s Office and Road & Bridge came up with the $4,500 figure by looking at the average cumulative cost of past rig moves. The overall cost will not change significantly, but it will simplify the process for both industry, the Sheriff’s Office and Road & Bridge.
Because oversize/overweight moves are charged by the mile, the cost of longer moves will decrease with the blanket permit, meaning that on some moves, operators will save money.
In part, permits for oversize/ overweight vehicles exist in order to cover the cost of road damage, the commissioners said.
“Quite honestly, the vast majority of the damage done to these roads is done by the heavy loads,” Short said. “Did you know that one heavy load is equivalent to about 10,000 cars, in terms of wear on the road?”
Even if operators paid in full for their road use, the compensation from the permits is a mere fraction of the road repair cost: Possibly less than 10 percent.
Last month, the permits generated $65,000 for the county.
“If we spend $5 million on the roads, I guarantee we’re not going to see $500,000 in permits voluntarily, as has been evidenced in the past,” Short said.
Many county officials said that the purpose of the switch to one permit was done in order to make life easier for operators.
Kelly, who inspects and enforces permit compliance on his own in the field, said that this change will save time for the county, too. He agreed with Auflick that delays cost money, but pointed out that “there’s a history of noncompliance.”
“It has taken this effort on our part to gain the compliance that needs to be happening,” Kelly said.
Converse County Road and Bridge Foreman Jason Wilkinson pointed out during the hearing that “we do have some (companies) that try to cut it short.”
It isn’t possible to check every vehicle for a permit. This change in the permitting process means Kelly won’t have to inspect each rig move as closely as he does now.
“I’m just one person in a large county trying to check a lot of activity,” he said.
Switching to one permit should also help prevent companies from trying to cut corners.
“It’s imperative that everybody pay their fair share,” Short said. “The issue that we’ve faced in the past is that so many have tried to skate by without chipping in. That’s where we’ve had issues. If everybody was chipping in we wouldn’t have issues, and if everybody was playing by the rules we wouldn’t need enforcement.”
Grant explained that when Nate Hughes, formerly in charge of enforcing permit compliance, became the CCSO’s undersheriff, there was a time period when no officers were in the field inspecting rig moves.
“If you go back (and look) at the number of permits that were sold during Nate’s time as opposed to when nobody was out in the field, it’s less than half,” Grant said. “So, if they know nobody’s out there and nobody’s tracking it, they’re going to take advantage of it.”
Auflick emphasized that operators contribute to the county economy in the form of taxes. He felt that the tax revenue paid by operators is being overlooked.
Grant reiterated that the purpose of the permit process change was to make rig moves easier for everyone involved and that Converse County welcomes development.
“I just think it’s important to stress that we reached out to industry and tried to make this fair and equitable,” Grant said. “The companies that Tom (Kelly) and Road & Bridge talked to felt that it was the right thing, the right move, and unfortunately you get the 1 percent that don’t like anything government does . . . and create hate and discontent for everybody.”