City hears farmer frustrations during its study session

Harvest trucks line up at the ADM elevator on North 16th in this 2017 file photo. Some producers attended the Enid City Commission study session Tuesday to discuss what they said was an increase in tickets issued to drivers hauling grain to elevators.

ENID, Okla. — A representative for local wheat farmers spoke to commissioners during a Tuesday afternoon study session, saying he and fellow producers are “concerned” after several of them were ticketed in Enid while trucking their harvested wheat to elevators in town.

Joe Neal Hampton, director of Oklahoma Grain and Feed Association, said this had never been an issue in past years.

Certain roads through the city have been designated as “truck routes,” and if any truck longer than 30 feet, essentially semi trucks, is found driving off of the route the driver can be fined.

“The days of the old red Chevy truck are gone,” Hampton said. Most producers rely on semi trucks to transport their wheat during the brief harvest period.

City Manager Jerald Gilbert said the ordinance enforcing truck routes throughout the city “has been the same for 10 years,” and that hasn’t changed.

“What has changed is the complaints and the concerns I’ve heard this year,” from ticketed producers and from Enid residents who see or encounter the trucks outside trucking routes and on roads not designed to safely handle the weight of a loaded semi.

“We get complaints both ways,” Gilbert said. “Agriculture’s a valid and very necessary part of the economy here, so we’re very sensitive to that too.”

Hampton said some existing truck routes are highly inconvenient and cost producers time to deliver, and therefore money.

Some routes, such as the Van Buren overpass, make producers feel unsafe.

Many of the farmers who were ticketed, or let off with a warning, “were looking for ways to not have to drive over Van Buren overpass,” Hampton said. “It scares me to drive over that thing in my pickup, and really scares the people hauling grain to go over that thing.”

Scott Keller, regional manager for ADM, joined Hampton.

“They need to get grain to market efficiently, now more than ever, especially in this wheat harvest where you’re delayed with rains and everything else,” Keller said. “The main places we struggle with are Willow, coming in from northwest, and individuals coming down through the south through Southgate.”

The wheat harvest is over in the region, so the problem with ticketing is as well, but only until the next season. Hampton, Keller and city officials agreed a solution must be found before harvest time next year.

Whatever that fix is will be determined at a future meeting, as Tuesday was just the start of official talks between the city and producers on the issue.

“We want to work with you guys as much as we can,” Keller said.

Enid city commissioners also discussed possibly pursuing a new loan from Oklahoma Water Resources Board, to refinance a previous clean water loan obtained from the board, during a study session Tuesday evening.

The loan “is not to exceed $11 million,” according to the meeting agenda.

Attorney Allan Brooks, outside legal counsel for the city, said the interest rates are lower now than when the city originally took the loan. By taking another loan, the city will have a newer, lower rate to deal with.

Brooks said the move will have “no downside,” and estimated that refinancing will save the city $650,000.

Following the study session, commissioners headed upstairs at 6:30 p.m. for a regular meeting.

Commissioners were scheduled to reach a decision on refinancing the OWRB loan, but rescheduled the item for July 16 as it lacked the members to vote on it. Two members were missing, and Rob Stallings could not vote on the item as he currently serves on the OWRB.

However, two other notable items did get the green light from commissioners.

An east-Enid property, 824 E.Garriott, was rezoned from a residential lot to a commercial lot. In the future, a pharmacy will be constructed on the land, the city has said.

The second item approved a contract between Enid Public Transportation Authority and Oklahoma Department of Transportation, granting the former $240,000 to invest in Enid Transit.

EPTA will purchase four new buses with the funds, city CFO Erin Crawford said.

Enid must match the nearly quarter million dollars with $40,000 of its own funds, Crawford said.

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Willetts is education reporter for the Enid News & Eagle. He can be reached at mwilletts@enidnews.com.

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