With harvest season cranking up, Mississippi growers and ginners need to be sure that vehicles used in transporting crops have the proper permits, that drivers heed all posted weight limits for bridges, and that fuel regulations are complied with.

“If these vehicles aren’t legal, you’re risking an expensive citation,” says Willie Huff, chief enforcement officer for the Mississippi Department of Transportation. “Or if an overweight truck causes structural damage to a bridge — or worse, a collapse — your liability could be enormous.”

Before trucks are put into use for harvest operations, owners should “be sure to have a new permit for each vehicle,” he said at the annual joint meeting of the Southern Cotton Ginners Association and the Delta Council’s Cotton Quality Improvement Committee at Stoneville, Miss.

Out-of-state contract haulers “must have operating authority in Mississippi,” he says. “We’re going to be closely checking these operators this year, so if you hire any hauling, be sure they go to the county courthouse and get a permit — or they can go online and do it.”

Huff notes that use of untaxed, dyed fuel in trucks and other vehicles can incur substantial fines and penalties.

“Dyed fuel, intended for tractors, auxiliary power units, and other non-highway uses, cannot be used in any licensed vehicle,” he says.

“Any dye found in a fuel tank makes the entire tank illegal. You need to warn your employees about this and make sure that, in the rush of harvest operations, they don’t put dyed fuel in a truck. It could potentially cost you thousands of dollars.”

The Internal Revenue Service Code specifies a penalty of $1,000 or $10 per gallon, whichever is greater, plus payment of tax, and the Mississippi Code tacks on another $1,000. If misuse is deemed a violation of the federal Clean Air Act, the penalty can be up to $27,500 per day per violation.

All drivers should be made aware of the importance of observing posted weight limits for bridges, Huff says.

“Just because you have an up-to-date harvest permit for the truck doesn’t mean you can exceed that posted limit. Many of these bridges were built decades ago and just aren’t designed to handle some of the weights being hauled today. We have any number of bridges with serious structural problems, and these limits are in place to insure that traffic can safely move over the bridges.

“One of our officers stopped a truck that was 74,000 pounds overweight for the bridge being crossed. We could’ve hit the truck owner with a $10,000 fine — but worse, what if it had caused the bridge to collapse when a school bus loaded with children was crossing it?”

The MDOT has 198 posted bridges in the state “and this changes almost daily,” he says. But the 82 counties have more than 2,000 posted bridges.

“Most farmers and ginners want to do right, and they see to it that their operators observe the limits. But, there are always some, particularly out-of-state contract operators, who take the chance they won’t get caught.”

Information on all posted bridges in Mississippi can be found on the agency’s Web site, gomdot.com.

e-mail: hbrandon@farmpress.com