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Road report reflects poorly on county

Staff writer

A report on county roads prepared last month by Norm Bowers, road engineer for Kansas Association of Counties, took the county road department to task over road conditions.

The commission room was filled with 18 spectators Monday, most of whom were familiar with Bowers’ report. Several were members of a road committee made up of township officials put together a year and a half ago.

Road and bridge superintendent Jesse Hamm and James Olsen, head of the culvert and bridge crew, looked chastened as commissioners reviewed the report.

Chairman Dianne Novak opened the discussion by asking Hamm to give his evaluation of the report.

“There’s a lot of truth to this report,” Hamm said, “such as not using proper tonnage of rock.”

Novak said roadwork is not being done properly.

“I grant you, you need more people, but you need to be hiring more quality people,” Novak said.

Bowers wrote that the county had a lot of the same issues when he was in charge of county roads in the 1970s.

“Contrary to what the public thinks they remember, we had a lot of poor rock roads,” he wrote. “We were always getting complaints from people wanting rock on their roads. In the spring of 1973 one afternoon there was a line of 15 people at the office each with a complaint about their rock road. The difference between then and now is that we had a lot of good rock roads, and now there are very few good rock roads.”

Novak upbraided Hamm for both work and supply quality, zeroing in on rock used.

“I’m running out of rock money,” Hamm said.

“I’m talking quality of rock,” Novak said.

Commissioner Randy Dallke said the county has long graded roads poorly.

Hamm said the department needs better cooperation between rock trucks and grader operators.

“They need rock, they need help, they need instruction, they need leadership — and they are not getting that,” Novak said.

Novak asked Hamm if he’s ever hired a road grader with experience.

“I have,” Hamm said.

When Novak repeated the question, Hamm’s answer was “Not lately.”

Hamm said he has a hard time finding experienced and qualified people. Novak answered that she could send some his way.

Commissioner Kent Becker suggested that the county needs someone to watch what road graders do and instruct them when they aren’t doing the job correctly.

Novak said instructing them is Hamm’s job.

“I try to prioritize, but I get calls from the commissioners saying we need to get rock on this road,” Hamm said.

Bowers’ report stated the overriding issue is not enough rock.

“Poor rock roads are more expensive to maintain than good rock roads, and from what I have observed there are few good rock roads,” he wrote. “Almost every mile needs work. With almost 800 miles of gravel roads needing work, the maintenance program is predominantly putting out fires rather than systematically making planned improvements.”

Bowers pointed to high road shoulders and lack of road crown as major issues as well.

Bowers wrote that the Harshman quarry at Florence is the county’s major quarry, but “is some of the softest mined limestone in Kansas.” A quarry north of Woodbine produces harder rock suitable for rocking roads and as a rock base. Rock from Florence is $8 per ton, and rock from Woodbine is $11.50 per ton. Bowers recommended using rock from the Woodbine quarry for areas north of Lost Springs and gravel roads where gravel trucks use 340 Rd. west of Lost Springs.

Road committee member Dwight Flaming said he’s a road user, not a road builder, but “the problem is the project is getting bigger instead of smaller.”

“The takeaway from all this is, we’ve got to have what our committee originally recommended,” said Liberty township trustee Linda Peters.

Novak called for a 25-minute executive session with Hamm, and commissioners took no action afterword.

In other matters, commissioners:

  • Accepted a $1,135.57 bid from Brinton Security, Shell Knob, Missouri, for a security system for the health department.
  • Voted to hire Travis Parmley of Great Bend as new Emergency Medical Services director for $67,000 annually.
  • Heard an update on Bridge #40 from Jason Hoskinson of BG Consultants, who said unanticipated shallow rock was found while drilling, and drilling through the rock will add both cost and time to the project that is not expected to exceed the original maximum estimated cost.
  • Tabled bids on a new transfer station shop because the bids came in significantly higher than expected.

On Friday, commissioners took their first step toward trying to redistrict the county, but could not decide whether to use census numbers from 2010 or state budget department numbers from 2017.

County counsel Brad Jantz told commissioners the state does not provide clear and concise guidance on how to redistrict.

Commissioners examined a chart drawn up by county clerk Tina Spencer using both sets of numbers.

Spencer said a commissioner election must be held within 90 days of a resolution redrawing district lines.

Last modified Dec. 6, 2018

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