Rep. Maryanne Kinney, R-Knox, sponsored a bill that exempts vehicles hauling animal bedding, necessary for the health and cleanliness of livestock, from posted road restrictions. It passed the house with a vote of 83-62 March 23, and is pending in the Senate.

Periods of early thawing led Kinney to submit the bill as emergency legislation, because some roads in Knox were posted as early as Jan. 20 this year, she said at the Transportation Committee hearing Feb. 16.

Trucks carrying animal bedding must get special permission from municipalities to travel on posted roads, she said, and in rural areas where town offices are often closed several days a week, getting that permission within the time frame required for delivery can be difficult.

“With the growth of the wood pellet industry, sawdust and shavings for animal bedding can be scarce, especially this time of year,” she said at the hearing. “When a mill is willing to release a load of sawdust or shavings to a farm, the farmer has a limited window to pick up or have the bedding delivered.”

The Maine Municipal Association opposed the bill because it takes away the authority of the DOT, county commissioners and municipal officers to protect roads from excessive damage during mud season. The rare exceptions to that authority, an MMA representative argued, are "exclusively limited to emergency situations where access to home heating fuel or drinking water could be imperiled.”

"Planned farm management can overcome animal bedding supply issues during the early spring season," the representative said, referring to input from association members who are both farmers and municipal officers. "The potential damage to the roads, however, is very significant and even in their own minds outweighs any support for LD 208.”

The Department of Transportation provided testimony against the bill at the hearing because vehicles hauling animal bedding are already exempt from posted road restrictions on state and state-aid highways within parameters set forth in department rules. Owners of vehicles over the 34,000-pound limit can request a permit, good for the life of the vehicle, from the department, to haul partial loads of special commodities, including animal bedding, on posted roads. Over the past three years the department has received fewer than five requests for animal bedding limited-load permits, the legislative liaison for DOT said at the hearing.

The committee was divided on the bill, with five members, including Rep. James Gillway, R-Searsport, reporting that it ought to pass, and eight reporting that it ought not to pass.

House Majority Leader Erin Herbig, D-Belfast, joined Gillway and Kinney in voting for the bill, and Rep. Stanley Paige Zeigler, D-Montville, voted against it. Rep. Karl Ward, R-Dedham, was absent from the vote.

Zeigler said by phone April 7 that he voted against the bill because of the testimony he read from MMA and DOT.

“For every exemption, that takes away some local control,” he said. “If there are too many exemptions, (municipalities) will have no control over tonnage on their roads.”