Loggers’ lawsuit against county engineer dismissed

WARREN — A federal lawsuit seeking $1.3 million from Trumbull County Engineer Randy Smith filed by a man and woman who operate logging businesses in northern Trumbull County has been dismissed by a federal judge.

William Spithaler, who operates Gustavus Firewoods and Hardwoods, and wife Beth Spithaler, who operates Yoder Smoking Woods, sued Smith in U.S. District Court in Youngstown, claiming the policies Smith’s office set were unfair and his office targeted them for retaliation because they spoke up against the new policies.

William Spithaler said he is disappointed in the ruling and is exploring an appeal.

Smith said he “is very pleased with the court’s ruling and will be filing a motion in the U.S. District Court seeking reimbursement from the Spithalers of taxpayer dollars spent defending the Spithaler lawsuit,” according to a news release from his office.

The Spithalers claimed it was unfair for Smith to set the price for one type of permit to take heavy loads on weight posted roads at $50 per year, and set the price at $500 every 90 days for another type of permit the Spithalers were being required to buy.

The cheaper permit is for heavy loads traveling on posted roads. The more expensive one is for businesses that have heavy loads originating from business sites on the posted roads.

Smith said the fee is higher for businesses operating every day with heavy trucks on a posted road because the repeated turns off and on it cause wear and tear to the road for which taxpayers shouldn’t have to fund repairs.

The couple said Smith refused to grant them the cheaper permits for operations out of Davis Peck Road in retaliation for making record requests and speaking out against the new permit fee structure. And, the engineer’s office had Davis Peck Road load tested after they requested permits, which the couple claimed was retaliation. The road was posted at 10 tons after the test.

The judge found Smith’s office operated within its purview and none of his office’s actions could be proven to be retaliatory.

Judge Benita Y. Pearson wrote in a judgment entry, “There is no evidence in the record suggesting the load-bearing evaluation or eventual permit denials were infected with a retaliatory motive. Rather, uncontroverted evidence demonstrates that the load-bearing evaluation was done as a matter of due diligence in response to a special hauling permit application…”

And “there is evidence in the record of defendants’ legitimate motive in load testing, and there is no evidence in the record to the contrary,” the entry states.