HAMILTON – With some help from the Montana Legislature, truck drivers hauling loads of national forest logs to Ron Porter’s Porterbilt Co. mill might shave an hour off their time.

And save hundreds of dollars every week to boot.

Under the current state law, they can’t weigh their loads at Porter’s mill south of Hamilton because his scale isn’t long enough to get a measure in one fell swoop.

Porter’s 27-foot scale requires him to take two measurements to weigh the load on a logging truck.

“There are numerous short scales across the state like the one I own,” he said.

When most of the wood he received at his mill came from private timberlands, it didn’t make a difference.

But the U.S. Forest Service requires truck drivers to follow state law. And the current law says loads have to be weighed on scales long enough to accommodate both the truck and its trailer.

What that means is log truck drivers are required to turn onto the Eastside Highway and travel to Pfau Feeds to be weighed, then turn around and come back to Porter’s mill.

That costs the truck driver time and money. Worse yet, Porter said, it puts the motoring public in danger when turning broadside to traffic on U.S. Highway 93.

“There is a real safety issue here,” he said.

So state Rep. Pat Connell, R-Corvallis, has introduced a bill that would allow truck drivers to weigh their loads on short scales similar to Porter’s.

“The current state law has caused some problems with smaller wood products operations around the state,” Connell said.

Log truck drivers also are having to drive farther to get their loads, which can make it a challenge to make ends meet financially.

“The only person who is doing well by making truckers drive further to get their loads weighed are the companies selling diesel fuel,” Connell said.

In situations where you have willing buyers and willing sellers, Connell said the state should allow that to occur.

House Bill 157 was heard last week by the House Transportation Committee. No additional hearing has been set.

As an experiment last summer, Porter said he weighed 30 or 40 loads after they had been weighed elsewhere in the Bitterroot Valley. In each case, they were both up and down by just a few hundred pounds.

That’s not much considering the loads are measured in the tens of thousands of pounds.

“In my opinion, this is just common sense,” he said. “I don’t have a degree in science or physics to justify my rationale, but when you’re talking just a few hundred pounds’ difference, it just doesn’t make sense to put the public at risk or add additional costs.”

Reporter Perry Backus can be reached at 363-3300 or at pbackus@ravallirepublic.com.

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