Bonners Ferry folks are tired of dodging the cowpies splattered on their highways.
So is Idaho state trooper Brian Zimmerman.
He’s hot on the tail of the cowpie culprits - Canadian cattle haulers.
Instead of cleaning the cow manure and urine from their trailers at the slaughter yards, some truckers prefer using the power of gravity. They open drains in their trailers while maneuvering around the steep hills surrounding Bonners Ferry.
The result is an unsightly, smelly and often slick stream of cow manure pouring onto U.S. Highway 95.
City officials asked for a crackdown on the dumpers, and Zimmerman, who lives in Bonners Ferry, is more than happy to oblige.
“It’s nasty and it’s illegal,” the trooper said. “It’s also a real hazard. You are driving along on dry pavement and you come around a corner and hit that stuff. It’s like hitting an oil slick. It’s very dangerous, especially for motorcycle riders.”
Truckers often mix water with the waste to loosen it.
“They let it soak and slosh around in the trailer when they are driving back to Canada and then dump it on our highway,” Zimmerman said.
For years, residents have complained about the odorous slicks that truckers leave behind.
Now Zimmerman, with help from deputies and customs officials, is keeping an eye out for offenders.
“It’s a crackdown on the crap,” said Bonners Ferry city Councilman Russ “Doc” Docherty. “People are tired of it.”
“We want to send a message to truck drivers that we consider it a serious problem and we won’t tolerate it,” added Police Chief Dave Kramer. “Those trucks are supposed to be cleaned out when they unload. There are facilities for that.”
Kramer’s seen a stretch of road a couple of miles long covered with cow manure. It happens more often in the spring and summer, but truckers also dump in the winter. When the manure hits the road it freezes and can send cars careening out of control.
“It’s just like walking on ice,” he said.
Zimmerman said the cowpies have caused three accidents in the past few years. “One is too many, and I’ve had enough,” he said.
In the past six months, Zimmerman’s written about 40 tickets to cattle haulers. Even if he doesn’t see them spewing waste, he can write them a $97 ticket for driving with their drains open.
“They say, ‘Oh, I didn’t know it was open.’ But you can see the manure flying and spraying. They have mirrors. They know the grates are open,” he said. “I don’t take any excuses. If they have an open grate, they get a ticket.”
Zimmerman said Washington border towns don’t see the problem because they don’t have the steep hills or as many cattle trucks.
Bonners Ferry is a gateway to Canada with ports of entry at Eastport and Porthill. Of the 40,288 trucks that passed through Eastport last year, 6,794 were livestock haulers, said customs supervisor Keith Barnhart.
Most cattle trucks come out of Alberta and haul livestock to slaughter houses in Pasco or Spokane, then return empty. Few cattle are trucked back into Canada.
Barnhart and his crew try to make sure the haulers have their drains closed when they go through. But often truckers stop at the outskirts of Bonners Ferry to open the drains after they pass the customs port.
“Most of it is pure laziness,” Zimmerman said.
Sometimes truckers have broken grates and just don’t fix them. Other times they spill the waste to reduce weight before reaching a weigh station. Dumping the mix of manure and urine can reduce the truck’s weight by about 1,000 pounds, Zimmerman said.
Part of the problem is the cattle trucks aren’t allowed back into Canada unless they are clean.
“If it’s not cleaned out, Canadian customs will send them back. So the quick, easy way is to get rid of it is on the highway,” Barnhart said. “Not all the cattle haulers do it, but there are a few that give the rest of them a bad name.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo
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