County OKs road maintenance fees

Howard County commissioners voted unanimously Friday to adopt a road use agreement in hopes of sharing the mounting cost of rural road maintenance made necessary by the ongoing boom in the oilfield.The court — with Precinct 1 Councilwoman Emma Brown absent — voted in favor of the agreement, which has been in the works for several months now, with the fees tacked on to county permits.“The road use agreement calls for all new access entrances which intersect county roads for commercial purposes — except agricultural related industries — are requested to apply with the county for a permit before the entrance is built,” County Judge Mark Barr said. “The construction of the entrances must conform with county road and bridge requirements and a fee of $4,500 shall be paid by the applicant at the time the permit is issued.”Barr said the road use agreement will also include permits for new oil and gas wells, with vertical wells requiring a fee of $7,500 and horizontal wells requiring a fee of $20,000.“No permit is required if the sole entrance of the lease where the well is located is not accessed from a county road,” Barr said. “The idea behind this road use agreement is to place a portion of the fiscal burden on the companies and corporations which are using the roads and causing a large amount of the damage, instead of county taxpayers having to bear the entire burden.”According to Barr, the damage to county roadways is currently estimated at $22 million.“Obviously, this road use agreement isn't going to solve the problem,” he said. “During our last budget session, we set aside $400,000 to $500,000 to be spent annually to address the county roadways. This isn't a problem we're going to be able to solve overnight, however, the court feels like it's a step in the right direction.”Barr said Howard County isn't the only West Texas entity feeling the pinch of the oil boom through its rural roads.“The road use agreement we adopted Friday is based on a similar agreement other counties are using for the same type of problem,” Barr said. “So, this isn't a problem just in our county, it's a problem that is being felt everywhere the oil boom has greatly increased the amount of traffic — especially large truck traffic — on its roads.”