October Municipal Law Alert Available

The October 2014 edition of the Municipal Law Alert is now available online. View the latest articles by clicking here or clicking the titles below. This month’s articles discuss Wisconsin’s new agricultural vehicle law and local government options for regulating agricultural vehicles.

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Implements of Husbandry – Wisconsin’s New Agricultural Vehicle Law

2013 Wisconsin Act 377 relating to certain agricultural vehicles was signed into law by Governor Walker on April 23, 2014. The Act made significant changes in the law regarding weight and size limits for agricultural vehicles. It also gave local governments some new, though limited, options with respect to regulating certain kinds of agricultural vehicles that fall under the new law.

Can I still protect the roads?

Let me start by stating what Act 377 did not do: it did not change the fundamental authority of a town, village or city to protect its roads from damage. See Wisconsin Statute § 86.02 “Injury to highway” and § 349.16(1)(c) (road agreements). These laws give local municipal officials strong tools, if exercised correctly, to prevent injury to roads, and to make sure that damage done by specific vehicles or operations is paid for by those causing the damage.

What about seasonal or special weight limits?

The new law did not change a local municipality’s ability to impose seasonal or special weight restrictions on roads, culverts and bridges under Wisconsin Statute §§ 348.17 and 349.16. A local municipality can still impose seasonal weight limits “because of weakness of the roadbed due to deterioration or climatic conditions or other special or temporary conditions….”

Does the new law cover all farm vehicles? What about logging?

Act 377 does not cover all farm vehicles. It only covers those agricultural vehicles as defined in the Act. For example, it doesn’t include logging trucks, sand trucks, or normal, licensed dump trucks or semi-trucks, no matter what they are hauling. There are many other exceptions, so be careful and be specific when applying this new law.

So what kind of vehicles does it cover?

Generally, Act 377 was designed to cover farm and agricultural vehicles, which are not “normal” registered commercial vehicles, and which are “normally” operated in fields, not on roads, but will be driven or towed on roads to get from farm to field or field to field.

The new law has a complicated set of definitions which you can find in Wisconsin Statute §§ 340.01(1o) and 340.01 (24). These statutes define the two major categories of agricultural vehicles covered under the new law – “implements of husbandry” (IoH) and “agricultural commercial motor vehicle” (Ag CMV). Broadly speaking, an IoH is a vehicle designed and manufactured to be used in a field and not intended for normal road use. An Ag CMV is a vehicle designed for normal commercial vehicle operation, but has been substantially altered such that it can really only be used for agricultural operations. IoH includes things like tractors, combines, harvesters, and various fertilizer and chemical spreaders. (The law further defines sub categories of IoH which is important because Category B IoHs receive some special treatment). Ag CMV would include a standard commercial truck which has been modified for field use, for example with a special box or tank to spray fertilizer or pesticides (not manure) directly. Ag CMVs do not need to be licensed unless they will be used for regular highway operation.

What are some of the important changes I should be aware of?

  • The Act increased the maximum weight limitation for IoHs and Ag CMVs by about 15% above the normal weight limitation for other vehicles. This increased the maximum weight limit from 80,000 to 92,000 pounds. These maximums are based on a per axle maximum of 20,000 pounds generally, and 23,000 pounds per axle for most IoHs and Ag CMVs. (Remember, this did not increase the weight limits for regular trucks, only IoHs and Ag CMVs).
  • Certain types of IoHs, called Category B IoHs, are limited to the 92,000 pound maximum, but not the 23,000 pound axle limit, unless the local government imposes the per axle limit by ordinance. Generally, Category B IoHs can be thought of as those that are self-propelled and not designed for road use Examples of Category B IoHs are combines, forage harvesters or self-propelled fertilizer or pesticide application equipment (but not including manure application equipment which is defined into Category C by the law).
  • Category B IoHs may exceed weight limits to operate on roads for incidental trips if traveling between fields or between a farm and a field for less than half a mile.
  • Category B IoHs do not have to comply with Class B road postings.
  • The Act created a new “no-fee permit” issued by the Department of Transportation (DOT) and local authorities for IoHs and Ag CMVs that exceed statutory length or weight limitations. Local municipalities will want to review their options, and the related article in this Municipal Law Alert discusses what local authority options are allowed.
  • Category B IoHs must be given a permit for the route requested, or be given an approved alternate route.

The Act also makes many other changes that are important for farmers, haulers and implement dealers, but are probably less important for local municipalities. For example, there are some new length, width, height and lighting and marking limitations, but these would typically be regulated and enforced by the State Patrol or County Sheriff’s Department.

Bottom Line

Although the Act permits heavier vehicles on local roads, a permit to exceed a weight limit is not a permit to damage or destroy a road. Local governments have the tools to protect their roads from damage done by specific vehicles or operations, whether industrial or agricultural.

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Local Government Options for Regulating Agricultural Vehicles Under Act 377

2013 Wisconsin Act 377 (see Implements of Husbandry – Wisconsin’s New Agricultural Vehicle Law for background) allows local towns, villages and cities to enact ordinances that will allow some local authority regarding Implements of Husbandry (IoH) and Agricultural Commercial Vehicles (Ag CMV).

Although the new maximum weight limits for IoHs and Ag CMVs (23,000 pounds per axle, 92,000 pounds total) cannot be reduced except in special circumstances, local governments may enact ordinances which regulate IoHs and Ag CMVs. Although the statute itself does not exactly define the various options, the Wisconsin Towns Association has provided an analysis of the options which may be helpful for local officials when trying to determine the best way to respond to Act 377.

Local Authority: Basically, there are six options ranging from doing nothing at all, to fully opting in to regulate under the new law. These are labelled Option A – F. Local governments should review these options and consider action at a Board meeting prior to the January 15, 2015 deadline for enacting a municipal ordinance on this topic.

  • Option A – posting roads limiting weights below the new limits. Keep in mind this has always been an option, but there must be a clear basis for doing so which can be backed up by engineering evidence that the structural integrity of the road, bridge or culvert cannot handle the weight. For example, if a bridge has been inspected and given a maximum weight below what Act 377 allows, this can be posted. Allows operators to apply for a permit to exceed the new maximums.
  • Option B – Total Opt Out: The local authority must enact an ordinance opting out. This would allow any IoHs or Ag CMVs to operate on any local road without regard to weight limits.
  • Option C – Partial Opt Out 1: Requires an ordinance. The ordinance would set defined weight limits, which may exceed the Act 377 maximums. Allows operators to apply for a permit to exceed the new maximums.
  • Option D – Partial Opt Out 2: Requires an ordinance, which would designate certain roads for over-weight operation, up to maximums set by the ordinance. Allows operators to apply for a permit to exceed the new maximums.
  • Option E – Opt In: Requires an ordinance. Requires all IoHs and Ag CMVs to comply with all regulations of Act 377, but allows operators to apply for a permit for exceeding the new maximums.
  • Option F – Do Nothing: Local government takes no action. Act 377 weight limits apply. Allows operators to apply for a permit to exceed the new maximums.

No Fee Permits: Most of the options available to local governments allow operators to apply for a permit to exceed the new weight limits, and no fee may be required for such permits. Permit application forms are available from the Department of Motor Vehicles at the following website: http://www.dot.state.wi.us/business/ag/index.htm.

Short Timelines: Local governments must approve or deny a permit application within three weeks, or the application is temporarily deemed approved. Then the local government has three more weeks, or a total of six weeks, or the permit is deemed approved for the year.

Denial: If the local government denies a permit, it must send the applicant a written denial with a reasonable, structurally based explanation that relates to the preservation of the roadway. Possible reasons might be a bad Pacer rating, obvious saturation of the base grade (standing water), obvious alligator or stress cracks caused by heavy vehicles, bridge ratings.

Category B: If an application is for a Category B IoH (see Implements of Husbandry – Wisconsin’s New Agricultural Vehicle Law), the local government must either approve the permit, or give the operator an approved alternate route.

Best Practices: It may be a good idea to designate someone to respond to applications in order to meet the short timelines without the need for a board meeting. If your municipality has agricultural operations which utilize IoHs or Ag CMVs, it may be a good idea for that designated person to visit the operators to discuss the new law and attempt to work out a reasonable agreement. For example, maybe a one way route for a particular operation would work to reduce stress on the roads.

The specific definitions for IoHs and Ag CMVs can be found in the statutes at §§ 340.01(24)(a) and 340.01 (1o), and at the following Department of Transportation website: http://www.dot.state.wi.us/business/ag/definition.htm.

Further information about these options and model ordinances can be found at the Towns Association website: http://www.wisctowns.com. (Scroll down to find the heading “Sample Ordinance & Information on New Implements of Husbandry (IOH) Law”). Contact your municipal attorney for assistance in enacting such an ordinance.

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