Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) recently posted weight limits on major roads in the White Mountains making it impossible for the recovery efforts on the Wallow Fire to continue. Highways 273 and 261 to Big Lake and Sunrise, the main arteries to the devastated areas, now have weight limits preventing removal trucks to drive on the roads. ADOT posted a weight limit of 17 tons for highway 261 and just ten tons for highway 273. These limits exceed the weight of flat-bed semi trucks even when empty. “Typically a log truck weighs 40 tons when full, which is 4 times the limit placed by ADOT,” says Gary Moore, Forest Energy Director of Operations. “Time is of the essence with the Wallow fire timber. The logs are decaying and we won’t be able to use the product.”
Forest Energy Corporation, a wood biomass plant based in Show Low, Arizona, is just one of the many companies relying on product from the burned timber before it becomes unusable. Arizona Log and Timber Works, which produces, log fences, railing and peeled poles, and the high speed HewSaw mill are also in dire need of timber from the recovery effort. The high-speed mill opened their doors just this last November, after local environmental leaders and the U.S. Forest Service identified large tracks of timber for sustainable harvest within the Wallow Fire restoration area. “Unless ADOT changes the weight limits and lets recovery trucks back on the roads to ensure that promised recovery-based wood is made available, layoffs in communities surrounding the White Mountains is inevitable,” Moore added.
A public hearing to discuss , among other things, the removal of the 20,000lb limit on Highway 273, was held on Monday, April 15th at the Arizona Secretary of State’s office.
The link to the document is http://azsos.gov/public_services/Register/2013/11/proposed.pdf
The forest industry isn’t the only industry who will feel the pain of these limits. The highways affected by these limits lead to some of the largest tourism sites in the area, including Sunrise Park Resort and Big Lake. The food trucks to Sunrise and the fish hatchery trucks to Big Lake could also exceed those weight limits. Without food on the mountain or fish in the lake, tourism could be a huge bust for the rim country this summer.
Highway 273 was established in 1957 with no issues or damage to the road do to weight. “The two largest economic impacts here in the White Mountains are forestry and tourism and ADOT has placed a huge obstacle in front of both,” says Moore. “For those of us who call the White Mountains home or even those who enjoy this area, it’s devastating.”