CADIZ - A gathering of 51 local government officials, representatives of oil and gas companies and law enforcement personnel gathered recently in the Puskarich Library for Harrison County Sheriff Ronald J. Myers' second monthly shale safety meeting.
While discussing safety issues, a road-use issue surfaced that became a dominant theme.
Local governments are responsible for ensuring that roads are kept in good repair, safe and passable, according to officials.
"These pipeline contractors and drillers are coming off these sites and, not using assigned roads, they tearing up our township and with our budgets being cut, we just do not have any money to keep up with the stone and manhours to fix the damage," said John Raber, a Rumley Township trustee.
"The roads are adequate for the current traffic," said Dan Henry, North Township trustee. "We can't afford to repair or maintain them with this volume of traffic."
Harrison County Engineer Rob Sterling recommended extending the road-use maintenance agreements to cover the other routes being used by contractors and workers in smaller vehicles.
Anna M. Kuzmich, statewide shale coordinator for the Ohio Department of Transportation, pointed out that only heavy vehicle traffic is covered by the agreements.
"The pickup truck traffic is not covered in the agreements and these companies are by no means beholden to pay for any damage other than on the section of road specified as the haul route," she said.
"It's extremely important that the companies are to have a road-use maintenance agreement in place. That affords for the protection of the infrastructure, our roads, our bridges and culverts, with regards to the haul route on any of these sites that will be impacted," said Harrison County Prosecuting Attorney Shawn Hervey. "Local authority is required to provide safe roads for the public use."
"Heavy truck traffic must maintain the specified haul route but pickup trucks of workers commuting to and from the site are not something that is covered in (the agreements). The fact of the matter is we are seeing traffic like never before," Hervey explained. "The roads were not built for 100 trucks a day. We are going to have growing pains.
"The issue is that once a hazard is reported, that first time we get a break on liability. The second incident the liability lies with the authority," Hervey cautioned. "I strongly recommend we close the road if there is any question of safety for the driver."
"While not specifically covered, I believe we can come to some sort of gentleman's agreement with companies working in our townships and villages where the company will provide materials for maintenance of travel routes," Hervey recommended. "While they do not have direct responsibility for the damage, I feel we can avoid drastic action if we communicate and cooperate to maintain the roads."
"Haul route compliance is one of our biggest challenges," said Ryan Dean of Chesapeake Energy, who noted his company has an FTP file on its web page where contractors could download maps of haul routes. His company has placed red signs on routes near their designated routes and green signs on the haul route to try and avoid complaints.
"Errant trucks can possibly lose time on the job or be terminated, but pickup truck traffic is difficult to enforce," Dean said.
Chesapeake is currently purchasing speed signs which photograph in excess of the posted speed.
"We are willing to work with local authorities as much as possible but if a rig hand wants to take a short cut on his commute to work. There is little we can do aside from mentioning it at our monthly meeting for all vendors."
Ed Kovacik and Mark Kowalski, Harrison Hills City School District outgoing and incoming directors of operations, also added the traffic and road conditions posed a safety issues for school buses.
Harrison County schools travel more than 3,000 miles a day and it must be done in a safe and timely manner," stated Kovacik. "We are concerned about some of the situations we have had."
"If we have delays due to blocked highways, we have children waiting in the cold," said Kovacik. "We have parents who rely on day care so we have to keep a set time table."
Kovacik also stated a bus was forced into a ditch trying to navigate around vehicles parked on a township road and the sheriff had to be called to move other vehicles parked in the roadway blocking the bus route.
"Our first bus leaves the garage at 5:27 a.m. and picks up our first student at 6:13 a.m., and the last bus is back in the garage at approximately 4:30 p.m.," Kowalski told the representatives from the shale companies present the school has updated bus routes available for anyone who would like a copy. "Many of the companies here have resolved to disallow traffic during the half hour when the bus will be traveling through their work zone or haul route."
Kovacik also said that there was an extensive amount of mud on the roads and that was causing a hazard due to mirrors on school buses becoming covered. "These are crossover mirrors to monitor school children crossing in front of the bus and they are in constant need of cleaning."
"Mud is a problem," Dusty Flanagan, safety inspector for Applied Consultants and supervisor for the Scio Atlas plant construction, admitted with 25 of the last 27 days having some amount of precipitation.
"We take pride in the work we are doing and we try and sweep and water down the roads as much as possible considering the traffic."
The consensus of opinion was that there was little that could be done about the mud.
Chris Wood, Harrison County manager of District 11, said,"We have complaints that lines are being obscured and that it is a safety hazard due to the amount on highways and it is going to take some caution on the part of drivers."
Wood also addressed concerns about work zones and signage.
"Pretty much any sign is worthless in about 48 to 72 hours after you put it up, but we need to keep the signs clean, take them down when the work day is over and avoid pacing any wooden posts in the safety zone to hold up signs for construction zones," he said.
Pocket spiral guides from the state of Ohio will be distributed to all work zones in the county in the coming weeks by Woods' office that illustrate how to set up a proper work zone.
Local contractors complained that they are having a hard time communicating with ODOT and getting information for their equipment hauling. One specific request was bridge heights along designated haul routes for oversized loads.
"A right turn on red at the traffic light by the Circle K in Scio is a constant problem," said Myers. "You can inform your drivers that it is $165 fine and we will be enforcing that."
The county also is still having issues with super loads.
"Due to the village mandating that these loads travel straight down College Street in Scio, we have had complaints about these loads as they travel along state Route 646."
The sheriff noted there is currently one load parked on U.S. Route 250 awaiting a rear steer trailer, which is necessary to navigate the route.
"We are also joining forces with the Ohio State Highway Patrol to keep the speeds down on Routes 22 and 250," said Myers.