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11 Investigates: Who pays for up to $10 million in damages to Wood County roads?

Donnie Zeigler has lived in Wood County for 46 years. He knows the roads like the back of his hand. But now, the roads are getting out of hand.

WOOD COUNTY, Ohio — Donnie Zeigler has lived in Wood County for 46 years.

He knows the roads like the back of his hand. But now, the roads are getting out of hand.

"I really hope we can get help soon, we just can't keep up," Zeigler, a board trustee for Portage Township, said.

Portage Township, just south of Bowling Green, is also where BB Land Dairy LLC is located. The business, which hauls out a lot of manure, silage and dairy, gained its state permit nearly 15 years ago.

"These roads aren't built for weight, it's the constant repetitiveness of the dairy trucks, manure, I've counted 30 trucks go by my house in a few hours," Zeigler said.

The trucks aren't just putting holes in the roads, but also the township funds. Zeigler said the township has an annual road budget of $190,000.

"It costs about $160,000 to $170,000 to fix one mile of road and that's the minimum," Zeigler said. "We have 59 miles to worry about and we can't keep dumping money into just here and neglect the rest."

The Ohio Department of Agriculture recently approved BB Land Dairy LLC to expand from 3,000 cows to 5,000.

BB Land Dairy's owner claimed he's offered to help the township pay to fix the roads, as well as the machinery to do it.

Zeigler said he did offer to pay until he was given a dollar amount. The township recently asked the farm to split the cost of a $38,000 drag to help maintain the roads, but the owner had no interest in paying, Zeigler claimed.

The owner has yet to respond to Zeigler's claim, though. The owner was given an opportunity to call WTOL 11 for an interview, but he never responded.

The width of county roads has also increased. Zeigler said they're normally about 12-14 feet wide, but now they're about 22 feet wide.

"Then you have to double the cost to fix it," Zeigler said.

About 30 miles southwest in Jackson Township, Greg Panning tells a similar story.

"We're not going to be able to keep up with them at this rate, just not going to happen," Panning, a Jackson Township board member, said.

Another dairy farm with a different owner is hitting Jackson Township with similar problems. This one is Reyskens Dairy Leasing LLC.

"We're going to have to go to stone roads," Panning said.

Reyskens' owner said he hasn't approached the township about road costs since starting business in 2006. His farm is looking to expand too, after applying with the ODA to add 1,200 more cows.

"It's the only industry that I'm aware of that I can point to where you can trace the damage right back to their doorstep," Wood County Engineer Jason Sisco said.

Between BB Land Dairy, Reyskens and another farm in Liberty Township, 65 miles of road damage in the county are caused by the farms.

"A conservative estimate would be $6.5-10 million to fix that amount of damage," Sisco said.

And just like the townships, Wood County doesn't have the money. Most of the destruction happens on township roads, which the county can't pour all of its money into, Sisco said.

"Our road budget on a year-to-year basis is about $2 million to maintain 245 miles of road," Sisco said.

So who fixes the roads? Sisco said the farms are avoiding paying for the damages they're causing.

"I don't know anywhere else in any part of our society where you can go damage people's stuff and say 'oh well, that's your problem to figure out,'" Sisco said. "Where else can you do that and not have responsibility for what you've damaged?"

Townships and counties do have the ability to lower the legal load limit, which is currently 80,000 pounds.

But that would hurt neighboring farmers, too, Sisco said.

Another option is to raise taxes, but for many, a draw to the area is affordable living.

Ohio Sen. Paula Hicks-Hudson a tax increase might be what townships have to do.

"If you can't provide the services for the services and if people moved out because they didn't want to pay the taxes in Bowling Green or Rossford or Toledo, then they're complaining about the roads," Hicks-Hudson said.

And even at the state level, Hicks-Hudson said there's no money to dish out to townships unless there's a change in legislation or funding.

Rough roads are constantly leading to dead ends. And any possible solutions have run out of road, too.

"We don't know what the answer is, we just know that this isn't sustainable," Sisco said.

It seems like townships are reaching for a helping hand that doesn't exist.

"The roads just keep getting wider, but what do you do?" Panning said. "These guys still have to get the milk out."

WTOL 11 asked ODA if they consider infrastructure before approving expansions, and they said as long as the farms meet criteria within the Ohio Revised Code and the Ohio Administrative Code, they can get approved. 

According to the Division of Livestock Environmental Permitting:

"If you are submitting a PTI application, you must provide documentation or correspondence that verifies you have notified local officials, including the Board of County Commissioners, the County Engineer, and the Board of Township Trustees (where the facility is, or will be located) to address infrastructure needs and financing of that infrastructure)."

The requirements don't state who is responsible for those finances.

Portage Township will receive a grant to work on Portage Road in the spring, but Zeigler said they are only temporary fixes to the road.

"I'm not against the dairy. I grew up around here, I grew up around cattle," Zeigler said. "We just need help or else it will continue to get worse."

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