In the middle of the harvest season in the Delta, it’s not unusual to see Mississippi Department of Transportation officers on the side of the road with scales under the wheels of trucks hauling their product to the grain elevators in Greenville.
Each tandem axle on the trailer must be individually weighed. No axle can weigh more than 44,000 pounds and the total weight of the truck can’t be more than 84,000 pounds.
To weigh the trucks, the officers must place a pair of digital scales — each officer has a set of four scales — under the tires on each set of axles and then have the trucks move forward to weigh all five axles.
The process takes at least half an hour, according to Willie Huff, director of the Office of Enforcement for MDOT, more if the vehicle is found to be overweight.
Those 30 minutes or more are critical to the farming operation according to Hollandale farmer Gene Stock.
Three of Stock’s trucks were stopped and assessed for being overweight on Sept. 16 between 3:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. on U.S. Highway 61.
While all three were found to be over the weight limit of 84,000 pounds as allowed by the Harvest Permit they all carry, none of the weights matched the subsequent weight at the Bunge grain elevator in Greenville.
The first truck assessed weighed 101,600 pounds, according to the MDOT scales, and 91,500 pounds, according to the scales at Bunge.
The second truck assessed weighed 89,100 pounds, according to the MDOT scales, and 87,160 pounds, according to the scales at Bunge.
The third truck assessed weighed 86,800 pounds, according to the MDOT scales, and 81,720 pounds, according to the scales at Bunge.
Stock said he knows two of his trucks were overweight, but the amount of difference in the measurement from Bunge and the MDOT scales is what concerns him.
“I will guarantee you one thing,” Stock said, “I’ve never had the MDOT scales be falsely lower than the elevator’s scales.”
The MDOT scales are calibrated by the manufacturer or a professional certification company, but not a government agency. The grain elevator scales are certified through the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce. The grain elevator scales are also calibrated each morning, before grain is loaded, by the local operators to ensure accuracy.
“Farmers are trying to get their crops in before the hurricanes wipe out all their profits,” Stock said. “MDOT is delaying the trucks returning to the fields to keep the combines cutting by stopping the trucks and holding them for 20-30 minutes and then ticketing the trucks based on false data.”
Huff said each of the assessments for overweight trucks can, and often are, appealed.
The assessments are not actual tickets for a violation in the same way a speeding ticket might be. Each of the grain haulers purchases a harvest permit for $25 each year as a privilege tax to use the highways to transport grain to grain elevators or storage bins. The permit allows the truck to weigh 84,000, which is 4,000 pounds more than a standard 18-wheeler hauling items is allowed. The assessment given to each truck is for each pound over the 84,000-pound limit at 5 cents per pound and is considered a privilege tax. The assessment for the 101,600-pound truck was $1,040.
“I full-well understand the need to get the crops out of the field,” Huff said, “But this is a common complaint from anyone hauling a product. They can make more money hauling more weight.”
The MDOT has placed virtual scales in two places in the Delta that monitors vehicles as they pass. Huff said the overweight vehicles that pass these virtual scales can then be later stopped and assessed. Assessments are not made based on the virtual scales.
“We have tried to figure a way to make it more time conscience,” Huff said. “We’ve looked at weighing them at the grain elevator.”
Local grain elevator operators are reticent to release the weights they gather on vehicles to the MDOT because they are private organizations. They also don’t have the ability to weigh a vehicle by individual axle.
“I believe MDOT needs to monitor the loads and the tires on the trucks to keep the public safe and keep our roads from being damaged,” Stock said, “but they shouldn’t be able to give tickets out based on mostly false information.
“The truck owners then have to spend their time appealing the tickets due to the incorrect scales that MDOT is using,” Stock said. “In two of the three cases above, I was illegal and overweight and deserved a ticket. The amount of being overweight was 10% off and 2% off.
In one case, I was under the legal limit of 84,000 and due to the scale being off 6%. My driver was stopped for 30 minutes and given a ticket for 86,800 pounds based on MDOT’s false scale readings.”
Huff said there will always be a difference in scale readings.
“It’s two different sets of scales,” Huff said. “I don’t have an explanation. We’re just trying to do the best we can with what we have.”
The revenue generated from the MDOT assessments of overweight vehicles goes to the county where the vehicle was stopped. In this case, Washington County. MDOT does not collect any of the revenue.