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Pioneer Editorial: County takes reasonable action in logging pacts

The Beltrami County Board of Commissioners decided Tuesday to hold loggers to their word.

A few loggers in Beltrami County couldn't fulfill their contract obligations because the early snows and heavy cover during the 2010-2011 winter prevented the ground from freezing adequately to support the massive machinery needed for harvesting timber. The representative of the Associated Contract Loggers & Truckers, Scott Dane, circulated photos of skidders miserably mired in swamps.

According to the contracts loggers and the county Forestry Department agree to during the August auction month, the inability to complete the cutting within the agreed time period - generally two years - results in loggers' requests for extensions. The extensions are usually approved, but with a 10 percent penalty fee, per the contract language.

Three northern Minnesota counties - Koochiching, Itasca and St. Louis - voted to waive their penalties because the uncompleted contracts were caused by weather beyond the loggers' control. Those arrangements are between the individual county boards and their contract holders. Those concessions, cited as precedents, have no bearing on the Beltrami County decision. Each county must take its separate course.

The fact that six out of about 75 timber contracts were completed in Beltrami County and the two-year window the loggers have to honor their obligations show the mission was possible. People in all kinds of business negotiate and sign contracts with penalty clauses. If, for some unforeseen reason, they fail to complete the contract, they pay.

As Commissioner Jack Frost said, "A deal's a deal."

And every farmer and contractor knows the vagaries of weather can cause huge impacts on profit and loss. Drought can ruin a crop, and weeks of rain can delay the completion of a road or building.

As Commissioner Jim Lucachick noted, there are risks in most businesses, especially for self-employed entrepreneurs like loggers.

Logging is a difficult business. The enterprise depends not only on cooperative weather, but also on the ups and downs of the timber market, which relates to the general level of economic prosperity and activity of the building trades. It also requires large investments in machinery as well as bidding for stumpage.

Although the Beltrami County Board members decided to require the loggers needing extensions to fulfill the letter of their contracts, the commissioners made a good move in modifying the requirements for the future. Beginning with the August 2011 contracts, if a logger can't complete a cut, the 10 percent penalty will only cover the uncut stand, not the whole investment.

That's a compromise fair to all concerned.