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Hedges, roads, and county ripped

Staff writer

Hedge rows ripped apart, and roads ripped up have left 14 West Branch families living on Chisholm Trail Rd. between 90th and 120th Rds. ready to rip into county officials.

“It looked like a tornado had gone down the road,” resident Dana Gleason told county commissioners Monday. “Culverts are smashed in so that water won’t go through them. They literally tore that road to pieces.”

The issue is the county’s attempt to clear hedge rows that hang over the 24 feet of clear roadway that regulations call for. Rather than trim the trees individually, the county has rented a machine that rips them apart.

“I was really shocked when I came home and saw it,” Gleason told commissioners. “A tornado that went through there a few years ago didn’t do as much damage.”

Maintenance over the past five years already had been “poor and little,” Gleason said, and combined with the destructive clearing of hedgerows, drivers on the road now have to circumnavigate “five very large mud holes that nothing has ever been done about.”

County officials responded that road crews were doing the best they could, trying to maintain the state’s second largest mileage of county roads even as other roads have had more pressing problems preventing residents from getting to their homes.

Crews are using the rented tree-whacking equipment rather than slower individual trimming to speed the process and have consciously decided to trim first, clean up later to save rent, according to commissioner Randy Dallke, who said another West Branch resident had contacted him individually about the problem with Chisholm Trail Rd. before Monday’s meeting.

“Saws cut nicer but are a lot slower,” he said.

After the meeting, road and bridge superintendent Randy Crawford explained why the trees needed trimming.

“They were overhanging and interfering with drivers’ visibility,” he said. “If vehicles would hit the tree or a branch would come through the windshield of a car, that’s maintenance liability.”

Gleason didn’t disagree, but he was concerned about how the roads were left after the trimming — and pointed out that the rental equipment that county said it had been rushing to use to save on rental fees had been sitting idle for several days while county workers apparently tended to other, more urgent problems elsewhere in the county.

“They left all the debris in the ditch,” Gleason said. “It had been raining all week and it made a mess out of the road.”

He appealed to the commission after not getting satisfaction complaining to Crawford, and although he wasn’t impressed with what commissioners told him Monday, he did note that after the meeting a county worker showed up to scrape away some of the debris.

“Crawford never said a word during the meeting,” he said. “He acted like it would be some time before we saw any results.”

Officials said it could take as long as three months to clean up after the rented tree-whacker traverses a road.

On Chisholm Trail Rd., much of the debris has now been removed, but mud holes remain.

“I’ll wait and see what kind of results we get and, if need be, I’ll be back,” Gleason said.

No sooner had commissioners finished lamenting with Gleason the cost of trying to maintain 1,600 miles of county roads — including some Crawford admits he has never traveled on — they voted to apply for a total of $870,235 in state aid not to fix potholes and washed-out gravel but rather to re-do stop signs, curve signs, and other safety signs.

For $4,000, the county’s share of a $40,000 project, an engineer will be hired to drive all 1,600 miles and make recommendations for sign placement.

Then, unless state spending policies change, they hope the state will come in and pay for replacing every safety sign in 2016 and 2017.

“It’s like winning the lottery for the county and the taxpayers,” Crawford told commissioners. “You’re looking at close to a million dollars that we scored.”

Commissioner Dan Holub noted that many signs would have to be replaced anyway to meet new standards on reflectivity.

Wayne Scritchfield of the Ellsworth engineering firm Kirkham Michael, which hopes to do some of the work for the county, brought the funding situation to the county’s attention just four days before a deadline to apply.

The project Scritchfield presented included $381,685 for northern county road upgrades, and $456,550 for southern county road upgrades. Commissioners agreed.

Crawford then suggested that the county might want to consider hiring a part-time aide to look for similar opportunities in multiple county departments. Commissioners decided to study the idea further.

Last modified June 18, 2015

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