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State threatens legal action against Stark Co. in road use fees dispute

Press Photo by Katherine Lymn A truck drives east on Villard Street in Dickinson on Thursday afternoon. Stark County and the North Dakota Highway Patrol are at odds over which should get the fees for two 2012 overweight trucking violations.

The North Dakota Highway Patrol and Stark County are at odds over which should get the fees from two overweight truck violations, and the state has now threatened legal action.

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Stark County State’s Attorney Tom Henning told county commissioners about the dispute at their meeting Tuesday, and asked them to think about what they want to do — either hand over the $25,800 the county collected after lawsuits or wait for the state to pursue legal action.

In March 2012, two ore-hauler trucks driving on county roads had bulging tires, and when stopped and weighed, were found to be 64,800 and 65,800 pounds over the legal weight limits, according to the civil complaints.

As it has often done, the county later sued over the violations, and in October 2012 won $12,800 for one violation and $13,000 for the other.

At the time of the violations, state law required the fees go to the state highway fund.

But the law has since been changed for violations that don’t occur on an interstate or state highway. Now those fees go to the jurisdiction — in this case Stark County — where the violations occurred, so the jurisdiction can use the money locally to repair, for example, oil traffic road damage.

Even though the infractions occurred before this change, Henning said the same principle applies.

“Am I precariously flying into the face of the law? Yes,” he said. “But it’s a cash grab, again, of the East from the West (oil-producing counties).”

Henning said the county had asked the Highway Patrol to weigh the trucks because the county’s truck regulator was gone at the time.

When the Highway Patrol learned of the judgments, it asked the county why it hadn’t handed over the fees. Henning said the Highway Patrol would have to send a formal request, which it did Oct. 24 in a letter to Commissioner Ken Zander and Auditor Kay Haag.

In the letter, North Dakota Highway Patrol Superintendent Col. James Prochniak said if the county doesn’t hand over the $25,800, the state will take legal action to recover it.

Representatives from Highway Patrol couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday.

Henning said the county usually collects these fees through civil suits, and that this particular case only came to the Highway Patrol’s attention because it helped with the weighing.