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Beltrami County Board: Loch Logging put on probation for two years

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A Beltrami County logger has been put on probation for two years and still can work logging sites on county-managed lands.

Loch Logging Inc. had been removed from the county's Responsible Operator List for one year by the County Natural Resource Management Department for a number of infractions, a decision Loch appealed to the County Board as it banned his participation in county timber sales.

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Commissioners directed County Administrator Tony Murphy to conduct an independent review of the decision, and he issued a six-page report with recommendations to commissioners last week.

"The board acknowledged receiving my report and then voted to put Loch Logging on probation for two years," Murphy said in an e-mail. "They can still bid on county timber sales and log on county-managed land while on probation.

"However, if they fail to follow the instructions of sale administrators, they will be removed from the responsible bidders list," Murphy wrote.

Loch also alleged a number of irregularities in the county department's handling of timber sales, all of which Murphy said were unfounded. Still, Murphy acknowledged that county timber policy needs a review.

"My report also included some department policy recommendations that we will get into more when a new land commissioner takes office," Murphy wrote.

Greg Snyder, NRM director who also doubles as the county's land commissioner, has left the department for a job with the Department of Natural Resources. An interim director has been named the County Board searches for a new land commissioner.

In the original complaint, Loren B. Loch and Sons Logging was cited for an unwillingness to comply with contract requirements, violations of county policy pertaining to site damage and failure to follow the instructions of the county sale administrator.

As a result, Snyder removed Loch from the county's Responsible Operators List for one full year, barring the firm from participating in county timber sales or in logging on county-managed lands. Loch appealed, giving its case to commissioners on Oct. 16.

At that meeting, Brandon Loch made a number of allegations about department operations, including that the sale administrator is biased against Loch Logging. He also asserted that operators on other sales create similar environmental damage, other operators receive preferential assistance (i.e. county gravel), operators are stealing county resources, county foresters are receiving gifts from an operator, and that operators are violating workers compensation law, according to Murphy's report.

Murphy found:

E Damage to environment: Loch Logging was asked to stop logging during rain, as logging roads were becoming rutted. The firm alleged other loggers were receiving preferential treatment that allowed them to continue logging.

"It seems that one of the toughest challenges for sale administrators is the requirement to work with loggers to minimize site damage," Murphy wrote. "There have been several instances this past summer of county foresters documenting corrective actions of loggers who may have rutting at the landing or haul road. There have also been instances this past summer where the forester has needed to shut down a logging operation.

"Obviously, a decision to shut down logging activity on a sale can be contentious. Every effort is made to correct problems without having to shut down operations. But, when a shutdown is necessary, the shutdown is usually temporary as the forester and the logger consider practices or improvements to address the site concerns," he wrote.

In Loch's case, work continued after a shutdown order was issued, Murphy said. "Tension, distrust and poor communications between Loch Logging and Beltrami County Natural Resource Management have also contributed to the ongoing conflict."

E Preferential treatment: Loch expressed concern that another logger received about $4,000 worth of gravel to stabilize haul roads while Loch was not offered any county gravel to fix roads on its site.

Murphy explained that the county's 147,000 acres of land is divided into five forestry districts, each with its own county forester and each with a lot of leeway within policy. "There is always the potential for inconsistencies in sale administration across those boundaries," he said.

Foresters have discretion in authorizing gravel to be provided to stabilize "permanent" county forest access roads, but not on "temporary" forest access roads. In this case, Loch was logging with temporary access roads, Murphy noted.

The case Loch cited, a logging site in Three Island Park, is a permanent road, he added.

E Operator theft of county timber. Loch Logging has alleged that the overruns experienced on county sales is attributed to loggers stealing wood from the county. Loch Logging has suggested that the county use cameras on haul roads or sell timber as appraised to eliminate the thefts.

NRM actively monitors timber sales and stumpage, Murphy wrote. It does not "advertise the measures being employed to ensure integrity of the sales" but it does include the use of road cameras.

Murphy said Cass County is conducting timber sales "as appraised," and it is a recommendation Murphy suggests when a new land commissioner is appointed.

E Improper benefits: Loch Logging alleged that Beltrami County foresters may be receiving improper benefits from a Bemidji area logger. Specifically, Loch stated that a Bemidji area logger has a resort in Canada and that county foresters have improper access to lodging, food and beverages from the logger.

"It is important that Beltrami County take all allegations of employee misconduct seriously," Murphy said. He had County Attorney Tim Faver investigate the allegation, who said it was unfounded.

E Workers compensation: Loch Logging alleged that there are loggers receiving county sales who are not carrying workers compensation benefits for their employees, which is required by county policy.

Loggers must submit a Certificate of Compliance/Workers Compensation as part of their responsible contractor application. Proof of workers comp must also be presented to the NRM prior to sale.

"Independent, third-party, auditors check county files to make sure the necessary workers compensation documents are received and filed by the county," Murphy wrote.

Murphy made four recommendations to commissioners.

"My review of the allegations submitted by Loch Logging leads me to conclude that there are areas that county policy could be clarified and strengthened," he wrote.

First, the department should develop written policy that governs the use of county gravel to repair or to improve county forest access roads. Decisions related to the authorized use of county gravel should be specified in a written policy, not just county practice. policy.

Second, NRM should continue to conduct training and formal reviews to determine and to verify that all county foresters are interpreting and adhering to county policies in a consistent manner.

Third, NRM should carefully consider the pros and cons of conducting county timber sales "as appraised."

Fourth, the department needs to improve the current written policy relating to significant non-conformance. The policy needs a strong sanction, something short of removal from the Responsible Operators List, to allow operators and NRM another opportunity to resolve disagreements. Murphy suggests a provision for probationary status.

Murphy recommended the latter for Loch Logging, "if Loch Logging desires to put past disagreements behind them, and will continue to follow the instructions of sale administrators."

A Beltrami County logger has been put on probation for two years and still can work logging sites on county-managed lands.

Loch Logging Inc. had been removed from the county's Responsible Operator List for one year by the County Natural Resource Management Department for a number of infractions, a decision Loch appealed to the County Board as it banned his participation in county timber sales.

Commissioners directed County Administrator Tony Murphy to conduct an independent review of the decision, and he issued a six-page report with recommendations to commissioners last week.

"The board acknowledged receiving my report and then voted to put Loch Logging on probation for two years," Murphy said in an e-mail. "They can still bid on county timber sales and log on county-managed land while on probation.

"However, if they fail to follow the instructions of sale administrators, they will be removed from the responsible bidders list," Murphy wrote.

Loch also alleged a number of irregularities in the county department's handling of timber sales, all of which Murphy said were unfounded. Still, Murphy acknowledged that county timber policy needs a review.

"My report also included some department policy recommendations that we will get into more when a new land commissioner takes office," Murphy wrote.

Greg Snyder, NRM director who also doubles as the county's land commissioner, has left the department for a job with the Department of Natural Resources. An interim director has been named the County Board searches for a new land commissioner.

In the original complaint, Loren B. Loch and Sons Logging was cited for an unwillingness to comply with contract requirements, violations of county policy pertaining to site damage and failure to follow the instructions of the county sale administrator.

As a result, Snyder removed Loch from the county's Responsible Operators List for one full year, barring the firm from participating in county timber sales or in logging on county-managed lands. Loch appealed, giving its case to commissioners on Oct. 16.

At that meeting, Brandon Loch made a number of allegations about department operations, including that the sale administrator is biased against Loch Logging. He also asserted that operators on other sales create similar environmental damage, other operators receive preferential assistance (i.e. county gravel), operators are stealing county resources, county foresters are receiving gifts from an operator, and that operators are violating workers compensation law, according to Murphy's report.

Murphy found:

- Damage to environment: Loch Logging was asked to stop logging during rain, as logging roads were becoming rutted. The firm alleged other loggers were receiving preferential treatment that allowed them to continue logging.

"It seems that one of the toughest challenges for sale administrators is the requirement to work with loggers to minimize site damage," Murphy wrote. "There have been several instances this past summer of county foresters documenting corrective actions of loggers who may have rutting at the landing or haul road. There have also been instances this past summer where the forester has needed to shut down a logging operation.

"Obviously, a decision to shut down logging activity on a sale can be contentious. Every effort is made to correct problems without having to shut down operations. But, when a shutdown is necessary, the shutdown is usually temporary as the forester and the logger consider practices or improvements to address the site concerns," he wrote.

In Loch's case, work continued after a shutdown order was issued, Murphy said. "Tension, distrust and poor communications between Loch Logging and Beltrami County Natural Resource Management have also contributed to the ongoing conflict."

- Preferential treatment: Loch expressed concern that another logger received about $4,000 worth of gravel to stabilize haul roads while Loch was not offered any county gravel to fix roads on its site.

Murphy explained that the county's 147,000 acres of land is divided into five forestry districts, each with its own county forester and each with a lot of leeway within policy. "There is always the potential for inconsistencies in sale administration across those boundaries," he said.

Foresters have discretion in authorizing gravel to be provided to stabilize "permanent" county forest access roads, but not on "temporary" forest access roads. In this case, Loch was logging with temporary access roads, Murphy noted.

The case Loch cited, a logging site in Three Island Park, is a permanent road, he added.

- Operator theft of county timber. Loch Logging has alleged that the overruns experienced on county sales is attributed to loggers stealing wood from the county. Loch Logging has suggested that the county use cameras on haul roads or sell timber as appraised to eliminate the thefts.

NRM actively monitors timber sales and stumpage, Murphy wrote. It does not "advertise the measures being employed to ensure integrity of the sales" but it does include the use of road cameras.

Murphy said Cass County is conducting timber sales "as appraised," and it is a recommendation Murphy suggests when a new land commissioner is appointed.

- Improper benefits: Loch Logging alleged that Beltrami County foresters may be receiving improper benefits from a Bemidji area logger. Specifically, Loch stated that a Bemidji area logger has a resort in Canada and that county foresters have improper access to lodging, food and beverages from the logger.

"It is important that Beltrami County take all allegations of employee misconduct seriously," Murphy said. He had County Attorney Tim Faver investigate the allegation, who said it was unfounded.

- Workers compensation: Loch Logging alleged that there are loggers receiving county sales who are not carrying workers compensation benefits for their employees, which is required by county policy.

Loggers must submit a Certificate of Compliance/Workers Compensation as part of their responsible contractor application. Proof of workers comp must also be presented to the NRM prior to sale.

"Independent, third-party, auditors check county files to make sure the necessary workers compensation documents are received and filed by the county," Murphy wrote.

Murphy made four recommendations to commissioners.

"My review of the allegations submitted by Loch Logging leads me to conclude that there are areas that county policy could be clarified and strengthened," he wrote.

First, the department should develop written policy that governs the use of county gravel to repair or to improve county forest access roads. Decisions related to the authorized use of county gravel should be specified in a written policy, not just county practice. policy.

Second, NRM should continue to conduct training and formal reviews to determine and to verify that all county foresters are interpreting and adhering to county policies in a consistent manner.

Third, NRM should carefully consider the pros and cons of conducting county timber sales "as appraised."

Fourth, the department needs to improve the current written policy relating to significant non-conformance. The policy needs a strong sanction, something short of removal from the Responsible Operators List, to allow operators and NRM another opportunity to resolve disagreements. Murphy suggests a provision for probationary status.

Murphy recommended the latter for Loch Logging, "if Loch Logging desires to put past disagreements behind them, and will continue to follow the instructions of sale administrators."

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