September 19, 2020

Stevens County Times

Your spot for community news in Stevens County, Minnesota

Some roads treacherous after recent snowstorms

Snow, wind, sleet, and ice.  These are things all of us have to deal with every winter in Stevens County. For most of us, that means we have the responsibility to clean our sidewalks and driveways, but probably not much else, to make them passable for ourselves and others.

For the county highway crew, winter brings with it the challenges of clearing out most of the roads in the whole county.  Depending on various factors, sometimes those challenges are harder to deal with than at other times.

At the county board’s meeting on January 7, County Engineer Todd Larson acknowledged as much when he told the commissioners there had been “a lot of snow challenges” during the prior couple of weeks.

One of those challenges was getting packed snow and ice off some county roads, making them difficult to navigate for a few days. Donny Wohlers related that he had gotten some calls about County Road 9 running north of Donnelly past the Kongsvinger church being icy until it hit Grant County, where the road was in better condition.

(The situation was similar on County Road 11 running north of Chokio, which was icy until it reached the Grant County line and became much more navigable.)

Wohlers said to some people it appeared the road hadn’t been plowed at all, and asked Larson whether his department was doing something different from how and when roads had been cleared in the past.

Larson replied that his crew wasn’t doing anything different, and suggested it might have been the timing of when each county cleared its roads, with the Grant County crews happening to pick the opportune time while the Stevens County crew got to the road either too early or too late to have the maximum effectiveness.

Traffic might have been a factor, as well. Larson said County Road 8 was probably in the worst shape for awhile because of all the truck traffic on it.

“The goal was to plow everything,” he said.

He went on to say that his crew tried to use MnDOT’s schedule for the optimum times to apply salt and sand, which apparently turned out not to be so optimal for Stevens County.

“Maybe it works in the metro area, but not here,” Larson told the board.

Another problem might be looming on the horizon. Larson said he was considering using a new salt/sand solution to better deal with slippery roads, but his department was having trouble getting salt due to transportation issues. He said the county’s supply is okay for now, but was uncertain for the upcoming days and weeks.

One thing that did go well during and after the recent snow/wind/ice events was the fact that the highway trucks, patrol squads, and emergency vehicles all now can communicate over the same radio channel, and thus directly with each other in real time.

As is always the case during and after inclement weather, there are people and businesses or organizations who believe they should get some kind of priority treatment based on their real or perceived importance to the community.

Larson said he had been contacted by some churches requesting that the highway department put salt and sand on their parking lots. He said he had been reluctant to do so because of some issues that had arisen in the past, but did not go into detail about what those issues were.

Another example was a state patrolman living on a township road who apparently wanted to be plowed out as soon as possible so he could get to his job.

Jeanne Ennen asked Larson if his department had a policy regarding special treatment of some individuals and/or businesses and organizations who thought there should be priorities for snow removal. Larson said there was not, although he related that his trucks did plow for ambulances who had to make runs during or in the aftermath of a storm.

In short, said Larson, the department tries to do its best, and tries to rely on good judgement to address situations as they arise.

Regarding the state patrolman, Ron Staples suggested that if his presence on the highways is so important, then MnDOT should be the ones who make sure he gets plowed out, not the county.

And then there are people who in taking care of themselves, make it worse for highway crews. Larson said there were several individuals and businesses who pushed their snow onto the county right-of-way after the snowfalls, making it that much more difficult for the county plows to clear that additional snow off the roads. He told the board that he likely would put an ad in the paper reminding people that piling their snow on rights-of-way was not acceptable.

And then there are people who believe “the sooner the better” is the best way to clear roads.

Ennen said it was important to let people know that clearing roads in the midst of blowing snow was futile because they simply would fill back in again after the plow had gone through.  She said she had seen a lot of “chatter” on Facebook from people complaining about unplowed roads. She suggested Larson place an ad in the paper explaining the department’s approach to clearing roads.

Larson said that he was, in fact, thinking about setting up a Facebook page for the department in order to get some real time messages out as they were warranted.

Regardless of the problems resulting from the snow, wind, and ice storms, Bob Kopitzke and the other commissioners thanked the crews for their hard work in keeping the county moving.

Other business

• In the first meeting of the new year, Kopitzke took over as chair of the board.  Regular meetings will continue to be held on the first and third Tuesdays of the month at 9 a.m. in the commissioners’ room in the courthouse.

• The county approved a letter of support for the Morris and Hancock school districts to apply for a Safe Routes to School planning grant from MnDOT. The city of Morris has or will do so on behalf of the Morris Area district.

• The board approved hiring the Donlar company out of Waite Park as the construction management firm to plan and build the new highway department facility.  Donlar had the low bid of $270,180 to manage the construction of the facility, which is estimated to cost about $2.7 million.

• The board approved a “one watershed” plan from the Pomme de Terre joint powers board to forward to the state Board of Water and Soil Resources.

• The board welcomed Flynn Copeland and his kindergarten class from St. Mary’s school as a part of Flynn’s “Wonderful Week.”