Road use fees put on hold

Howard County commissioners agreed Monday morning to submit a road use agreement recently adopted by the court to the Texas Attorney General's office in an effort to clarify how the new law will affect area oil transport and trucking companies.The road use agreement was adopted by commissioners on a unanimous vote in late-December in an effort to help fund much-needed repairs to county roadways damaged by the increase in truck traffic generated by the recent boom in the oil field.“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.”According to Barr, the commissioners court is submitting the agreement to the Texas Attorney General's office in hopes of establishing a clear scope of who it will affect and how.“The state law in these matters isn't very clear at all,” Barr said. “In fact, it's loaded with gray areas. That's why we've asked County Attorney Joshua Hamby to submit the matter to the Texas Attorney General's office for an opinion. That way, we will have a much clearer idea what we can and can't do with these road use agreements and permits.”Barr said most of the questions revolve around whether or not the county can require the trucking and transportation companies to pay to enter and exit county roadways.“The biggest question we're facing at this point is whether or not we can charge for these trucks to enter and exit the county roads,” Barr said. “These entrances and exits need to be built to county specifications to prevent flooding and other problems from cropping up.”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.”With more than $22 million in damages already sustained by county roads, Barr said the road use agreement is a way to place some of the financial burden on the entities causing the majority of the damage, instead of placing the full weight of the repairs on local taxpayers.“These oil and transport companies are the ones benefitting from the boom and it only seems fair they shoulder some of the repair costs associated with the tremendous increase in truck traffic,” Barr said. “Of course, these agreements won't even come close to generating fees equal to the costs, but it will certainly help.”Barr said he has spoken to a few of the oilfield companies the road use agreements will affect, however, without a solid idea what state law will and will not allow, it's hard to figure out where everyone involved stands.“Obviously, the county feels like the road use agreement the county commissioners passed is legal,” Barr said. “The companies we've talked to have all been very congenial, however, they are in the same situation we are in. They want to know where the state law falls in all of this.”Barr said the road use agreements approved by commissioners in December haven't yet been implemented.“We've basically put them on hold for right now,” Barr said. “We want to see what the attorney general's opinion will be before we begin implementing the agreements. According to the state officials we've talked to, we should hear back from the attorney general's office within 180 days once we've submitted it.”