East Texas loggers seek relief from Austin in the midst of
As printed in the Texas Logger magazine
Written By: Kelli Barnes
Photo: Lonnie Grissom
The landscape in Woodville, Texas and surrounding areas is changing for the logging industry in East Texas in some positive ways, while at the same time changing in negative ways for the loggers themselves. According to Lonnie Grissom, owner of eight different logging based businesses in Tyler County, loggers are in need of some cooperation from lawmakers, the Deep East Texas County Commissioners and Judges Association and from citizens in East Texas. "All we want is a legal means to haul logs out of the East Texas woods at a reasonable weight limit," said Grissom. "We want to buy a permit from the state of Texas, allowing the tandem weight limit to increase from 38,000 to 44,000 lbs. This is not a request for more than the 84,000 lbs. gross weight allowed in Texas. This is a request for weight distribution. Logging is a way of life in East Texas...trees being one of our most valuable resources. I always knew we would fight environmentalists, but I never dreamed we would have to fight the state of Texas to protect our livelihood. The main problem is, current permits do not allow enough weight. We have to run more loads to meet quotas, which increases volume on the roadways thereby increasing the risk of citations. Recently law enforcement has become aggressive, stopping trucks more frequently, writing expensive tickets. This cost increase is going to put the remaining loggers out of business. How else are we going to get one of our most valuable resources out of the woods and to the consumers? Loggers want a legal and affordable way to do their job."
Weight restrictions in Texas are written into legislation and will have to be changed by a vote from the legislature. In October, 2012 Governor Rick Perry said, when speaking to a group of Tyler County delegates in Austin, "Maybe we can come up with a number that works for everyone".
A recent press release from James Whites office stated: State Representative James White today (January 28, 2013) filed HB 777, a bill which would provide critical regulatory relief for the Texas Forestry industry.
"This is a simple bill to save East Texas jobs and restore prosperity to our local communities," said Representative White. "This bill is designed to keep our loggers on the road, keep them in business, and most importantly keep them loaded in a safe and legal way,"
The premise of the bill is to allow an increase in driver tandem axle weight from the current 38,080 lb. limit, to a limit of 44,000 lbs. A number of states with timber cutting and processing already have a driver tandem axle limit of 44,000 lbs.
The bill does not increase the gross allowable weight of a vehicle past the current 84,000 lbs. already in statute. This limit, while less than many of the other states with whom we compete in the timber industry, is one that does not inflict unusual damage to local roads.
"We are attempting to improve the chaotic regulations which currently inhibit Texas loggers and allow the forestry industry room for the economic development it can bring to East Texas," stated Representative White. "This is also a first step in getting our local governments the resources they need to improve and maintain infrastructure."
On average, every dollar generated in the Texas forestry sector contributes an additional 73 cents to the rest of the Texas economy. Many counties in the timber region have double-digit unemployment, and require quick but prudent action to relieve hard working men and women of regulation threatening their businesses. In addition, the regulations in place are preventing job creating businesses from making East Texas their home.
"To be proactive and to meet the demands of transporting logs out of East Texas, the state of Texas needs to delegate specific funds for rebuilding and/or maintaining roads and bridges in East Texas, for the good of the Texas economy...it cannot all be put on the backs of loggers," said Charlie Gee, logging coordinator for the Texas Logging Council. In the January issue of Texas Logger magazine, Gee stated, "The law in Texas allows loggers to pay a registration fee to carry heavier loads...and they also pay a heavy fuel tax to the Feds. Truckers are paying for the privilege to carry weight. The counties complain about not having enough money because the state gets it all. I don't disagree, but as a taxpayer, it is not my fault that this money split allows the state to 'get it all'. Concerning 'road damage caused by overweight trucks', I have been traveling county roads for over forty years and have seen some bad roads caused by trucks and the road needed gravel or rock to repair it. However, ninety percent could be repaired with a motor grader, as the damage appeared to be the result of normal road usage. At a meeting in Austin, the definition of 'what is a road torn up?' has yet to be determined. So, there is no standard to compare with when determining road damage. I have heard, '$15,000 bond is not nearly enough to fix a road'. As previously mentioned, a motor grader is the most economical and quickest way to maintain and/or repair a road. In East Texas, $15,000 would fix a lot of county roads! Having said all of this, we in the East Texas timber belt need to come together and make our legislators aware of the financial problems our industry faces. We need them on our side. We don't need more rhetoric, we need solutions!"
Currently, in Texas, TCEQ (Texas Commission on Environmental Quality), air regulations exceed the United States EPA (Environmental Protection Agency). John Godfrey, wood pellet plant developer, said this about the challenges he faces when coming into East Texas vs. other places: "Although East Texas has an adequate wood supply, the environmental policies almost encourage people to object in order to receive some kind of consideration. It comes off as a type of extortion. The weight limits are also an issue because Louisiana allows 86,000 lbs., New York allows 105,000 lbs. and Canada allows 130,000 lbs. with a permit. In the wood pellet world, where monitoring carbon emission is vital, not only in the production of, but also the transporting, heavier loads mean less travel and less carbon. If heavier loads were allowed, it would make this part of Texas a prime area for more pellet industry. Getting trees out of the woods and pellets to the Port of Beaumont or Port Arthur would be more economical and more energy efficient."
It is vital for East Texans to understand how important the logging industry is to the economy of the 43 counties in the Pine Belt of Texas, according to Gee and Grissom. "I know the German Pellet plants are looking now for alternative sites and because of difficulties in Texas, they are looking at other states," said Grissom. "I also know of a group out of Kentucky looking to start an industry that compliments the logging industry, but they are leaning toward Louisiana instead, due to Texas regulations."
"I encourage East Texans to support the logging industry and think positive when you see a log truck on the highway," said Grissom. "We need help from citizens so we can create communities where our children and grandchildren can have jobs and raise their families without having to move away. In Woodville, the German Pellet Plant will be operational by the second quarter of 2013 and will need 1.2 million tons of fuel wood annually. Then, the East Texas Electric Cooperative's Woodville Biomass plant will be operational in 2014 and will need 500,000 tons of fuel wood. Already, this creates the need for 86 more logging crews and each crew has about 10 employees which equals 860 new local jobs." Grissom went on to say that the opening of the newly improved Panama Canal in 2014 is going to open up the entire Asian market for East Texas to be able to haul logs out of the woods and to the Port of Beaumont.
Napco representatives explained that chips for bio-fuel include damaged trees, limbs, branches and pine needles as well as large underbrush such as yaupon. This is much more inclusive than round wood thinning which is limited to logs that are large enough to be loaded onto a log truck. This broader scope can yield 51 tons per acre of bio-fuel chips as compared to 20 tons per acre of thinned round wood. While bio-fuel chips may be only $3 per ton, the larger volume per acre can offset the price difference for round wood. Since the bio-fuel chipper thinning approach is ideal for smaller trees, the first thinning of a forest can be years earlier than a round wood thinning. This enables the trees left standing after the first thinning to begin their post-thinning growth sooner. Also, the forest left standing is more evenly distributed and cleaner than that after a round wood thinning.
Grissom was born and raised in Woodville, Texas and logging was a part of his upbringing. "My dad, Lonnie Grissom, Sr., was a wood dealer for Temple Eastex and my grandfather, Otis Grissom worked in the business. Grissom graduated from Kirby High School in 1979, married and was in the United States Army for four years, stationed in Germany during the Cold War. "My oldest daughter was born in Germany. This was the only time I have lived outside of Woodville," said Grissom. After serving in the military, Grissom came back to Woodville, working at an electric motor shop, and later purchasing it. Grissom also worked on short wood crews until he and Buddy Wilkinson from Colmesneil started G&W Enterprises in 1986. They remained partners in the logging business for over 20 years. Grissom currently has 95 employees and is hiring. All of his children and grandchildren live in Woodville. "I want them to be able to make a living working in Tyler County," said Grissom. "I am disappointed that young people are having to move away from here to find work."
The Texas Logging Council is a council of Texas Forestry Association, a non-profit trade association whose nearly 3,000 members grow, manage, harvest and process the forest resource of Texas.