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Beltrami County Board: Logging firm gets review

The Beltrami County Board voted unanimously Tuesday to direct county staff to conduct a thorough review into the denial of work in Beltrami County for a local logging company.

The Beltrami County Natural Resource Management Department had suspended for one year the responsible operator status of Loren Loch Logging, which it said conducted logging in the rain in violation of contract instructions, resulted in rutted roads. The logging company appealed the decision.

"(Land Commissioner Greg Snyder's) complaint is that we didn't abide by their rules and regulations," said Brandon Loch, son of Loren Loch. "We always did. Sometimes we were limited by conditions. We did what we were supposed to do."

The Lochs also claimed NRM used favoritism in awarding logging work.

Commissioner Jim Lucachick said he had viewed the lands the Lochs worked on and did not believe the company had performed much differently than other logging companies allowed to work.

Lucachick made a motion to rescind the one-year penalty, pending discussion with NRM personnel, but the motion failed on a 3-2 vote, with Jack Frost, Jim Heltzer and Joe Vene in opposition. Quentin Fairbanks voted in favor along with Lucachick.

"I feel the motion was a little precocious in that we didn't even hear from our own director," Frost said after the vote.

"I believe my role as a county commissioner is essentially that of a policy maker," Heltzer said. "I have a lot of respect for Greg Snyder and the administrative staff of his department. I certainly wouldn't vote to do this before hearing from everybody."

"We think we are responsible loggers," Brandon Loch said. "It's a family business and we've been doing it for years."

He said getting responsible contractor status back is not his main concern. "I want to make things more fair."

"I'm 72 years old and I've been logging all my life, since I was 10 years old," Loren Loch said, alleging blatant favoritism in the county toward certain loggers.

Frost assured him the allegations would be looked into.

"I did what I thought was best in the situation," Snyder said to the board. He said Loren Loch Logging's actions displayed a pattern of disregard.

"They don't seem to understand that when they are working on county land, they need to take direction from us," Snyder said. "If they want to work for the county, they need to follow rules. I have no idea why they decided to keep operating in pouring rain. If they don't understand that, they need a one-year time out."

As commissioners discussed the possibility of further exploration of the issues, County Administrator Tony Murphy noted that in a previous meeting the board had taken a list of grievances under advisement with the expectation that diligent action would be taken.

"I just feel like we make better decisions if we take the time to let the information set a little bit, let cooler heads prevail, try to find a little balance," Murphy said. "There's certainly questions here that deserve to be reviewed."

"If the county administrator would lay that out for us, I would support that," Heltzer said. "I get very nervous with the idea of opposing the judgement of county staff."