IMPORTANT ISSUES FOR 2013
Farm Taps • Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA)
Small Business • Farm Tiling
Farm Taps – The private gas line that conveys natural gas to a home or business is often referred to as a farm tap. They connect to the natural gas main with a meter and a shut off valve above ground. When a Gopher State One Call (GSOC) is submitted for an area, the gas main is located, but not the private gas line leaving it. What is happening is, contractors and farmers are cutting and damaging these lines because they are not included in the GSOC locating grid. GSOC says that they are private lines and the owner is responsible to locate it. Here is where the problem starts. Many meters are along fence lines or in other fields and may even cross roads, and aren’t visible. When the meter isn’t seen, we have no indication of a danger, and because there are no gas line markings, we assume it is okay to dig. When a gas line is cut, many times there is no indication of gas escaping. Natural gas is lighter than air, so normally it rises. If there is an ignition source nearby and the mixture is correct, an explosion and fire will occur. If the gas cannot escape going up, it could possibly escape following the drain tile and enter the perforate pipe. What is connected to this tile could be at risk for gas entering it such as floor-drains in a house or business etc. These are some of the safety concerns. There is also a financial concern. When a line is cut or damaged, who is responsible for repairing it? Also, if other damage occurs who is liable? What we are seeking is a ‘locate’ on the farm taps and not a blanket locate on all private utilities. The farm tap has a starting point (the meter) and a target point (the regulator at the house or business). We have been working on this issue for several years now, and have seen some pro-active information from the GSOC. In their web site, it talks about looking for farm taps and having a private locator find it. We would like it to go a step farther and include ‘the locate’ with the GSOC grid because the gas originates from the gas line main already located. It will cost money and take time, but in the long run it will help to remedy the problem.
Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) is the regulatory agency that oversees the gravel pits and mining industry. They have many of the same regulations as OSHA but are a separate agency with separate rules. What has been happening nationwide is the agency is acting in an ‘enforcement and penalty’ manner and not a safety administrator as intended. They are told to find at least some infractions to issue fines for. I visited with a large aggregate supplier that has numerous pits around the state, and have a near spotless safety record. What they do, to appease the inspector, is have an obvious infraction visible so they will get a fine issued. When this happens, they get paid and more harassment is avoided. These inspectors have too much leeway in their interpretation of the laws. This agency, we feel is using this method as a funding mechanism for the agency. Some of the contractors targeted have gone out of business, and others are involved in huge legal battles with MSHA. Retaliation by MSHA for disputing violations is also rampant. When confronted, the inspector harasses and intensifies his efforts in any way possible. One aggregate owner was issued a fine for giving poor directions to a pit location scheduled for an inspection. We need to have some normal interaction with these people, and educate safety instead of mandating fines and harassment.
Small Business - Many of the members of the Land Improvement Contractors of America ( LICA ) are small business owners. Getting started as a small business and staying in business is getting more and more difficult. Regulations, policies and taxes are eroding away our bottom line. It seems with more government involvement comes more cost and less revenue. Hiring employees is at best a stressful and costly problem. The cost in unemployment, withholding, drug and alcohol testing, rising work comp rates and this is not even counting the rising health care costs. It seems that all the benefits are starting to go to the employee instead of the business owner trying to get ahead. The new sales tax ideas on taxing more services and lowering the rate on goods would be a disaster. We oppose this change because it will not fix an already highly sales taxed state. The complexity of this would be enormous to say the least. We cannot continue to lay the burden of supporting so many by so few. It is driving businesses out of state and out of business.
Farm Tiling - For many years, Minnesota has been in the forefront of Agriculture and water management. In the southern part of state, nearly 2/3 of the farmland is artificially drained in order to produce a crop. This has happened over a long period of time. Now, we are seeing land values skyrocket along with much higher grain prices. This has driven the installation of more drainage on the land to improve yield and ultimately profits. Along with the increased drainage, comes increased regulation. There are numerous environmental groups that have been pressuring the NRCS to stop drainage. They claim loss in wetlands and loss in habitat. The loss of wetlands is not happening; however there may be a loss of some habitat because of land coming out of CRP. Again, the high cost of land, high grain prices and little or no funding for future CRP. This is one of the effects of our free enterprise system. Currently, the NRCS is requiring a ‘wetland determination’ be completed on any land that drainage activities are being performed. This is for compliance in the Federal Farm Program for program benefits. If we drain an area that is not labeled a ‘Farmed Wetland ‘ (FW) or a ‘Wetland ‘(W) now, and after the ‘new’ determination is completed and they place this label on areas in the field, the farmer is in violation. These new determinations (the third such determination since 1985), are taking 6 months and longer and aren’t being done accurately. The farmer has 30 days to issue a written appeal and to get it corrected. We have seen some appeals in southern Minnesota and nearly all have been corrected. This is a huge waste of time and money. Many of the farmers I have met with are not going to be involved in the Federal Farm Program in the future. This is a growing trend in many areas.