Mitchell County considers a new steel wheel ordinance
By Jean Caspers-Simmet
Date Modified: 09/10/2012 3:09 PM
OSAGE, Iowa —Following a public hearing, the Mitchell County Board of Supervisors last week unanimously approved the first reading of a new ordinance banning steel wheel vehicles from hard-surface roads in the county.
If approved, Local Ordinance 46, "Mitchell County Steel or Metal Wheel Ordinance," will replace Local Ordinance 44, "Mitchell County Road Protection Ordinance," adopted in August 2010. That ordinance replaced Ordinance 41, adopted in 2009.
The proposed ordinance more closely follows the wording of Iowa Code 321.442, except that the fines are larger. The state fine is $10. Mitchell County's fines would increase from $250 in Ordinance 44 to $500 in Ordinance 46 for the first offense, from $500 to $750 for the second and from $750 to $1,000 for the third.
Supervisor Stan Walk asked the county attorney to explain why the changes are being made.
"The new one parallels the State Code a little closer, said Bob Marreel, supervisor board chairman. "Other than that, it's not that much different."
"I'm not totally up to date on why it was recommended to make the change," said Betty McCarthy of Osage. "What will this one do that the other one won't do except a bigger fine?"
"All I'm going to say is that it's likely this matter is going to end up in litigation so I'm not going to make any comments that could be used against the county," said county attorney Mark Walk. "Everyone is going to have to read the ordinance and form their own opinions. We'll let the Supreme Court tell us if it's constitutional."
Penney Morse of Osage asked if the board would write other ordinances regarding other farm equipment that damages roads.
"As farm equipment becomes bigger and heavier, is there any anticipation that other ordinances will be written," Morse asked. "Can't we go after anyone civilly for actual damages to the road?" asked supervisor Stan Walk.
"It's awful hard to go against any implement of husbandry," said county attorney Mark Walk. "Commercial vehicles, yes, but implements of husbandry, very difficult, because there are no weight restrictions. We all know the roads weren't made for equipment as big as it is now."
"I have concerns that if we do this with one class of farm equipment, in the future it might impact other farm equipment," Morse said. "We are a farming community. I wouldn't want to see a precedent established where we're going after the means of our economy."
"We're not," Marreel said. "We are trying to protect our hard surface roads."
"I've noticed damage in other areas where there are no steel wheels," Morse said.
County Auditor Lowell Tesch said Dan Zimmerman of Orchard called him to say he is against the new ordinance. Marreel asked to waive the second and third readings, but supervisor Stan Walk said it's always been board policy that if anyone protests an ordinance, the supervisors allow all three readings.
"We do have people with concerns," Stan Walk said. "I think it would be a bad precedent to waive the readings."
The second reading was planned for this week.
The Iowa Supreme Court in February ruled unanimously that Mitchell County's road protection ordinance violated the constitutional rights of Old Order Groffdale Conference Mennonites. The justices said that Mennonites are forbidden from driving tractors unless they are equipped with steel wheels, and the county's road protection ordinance forbids steel wheel vehicles on hard surface roads. At that time county attorney Mark Walk said the supervisors amended their ordinance in August 2010 to say a steel wheel tractor could drive on a hard surface road as long as it didn't cause damage so it took care of the Supreme Court's concerns that the ordinance was too restrictive.
Walk said Ordinance 44 mirrored Iowa Code and was less restrictive.