New roadside program would cost county $200K

Margo Sprenger, a Lee County farmer, looks over a patch of native prairie. Sprenger is asking the county to not mow so deep into the ditches to allow natural native plants to grow. PCC File photo.








MONTROSE –  An effort aimed at re-energizing a county roadside maintenance program was a topic of discussion among supervisors on Tuesday.

At the regular meeting of the Lee County Board of Supervisors, the board heard from Jeff Chase, the Des Moines County Roadside superintendent, as to his department’s approach to handling roadside vegetation in that county.

Chase appeared at the request of Margo Sprenger who is spearheading the effort in Lee County to bring back the county’s Integrated Roadside Vegetation Maintenance program. Sprenger has been pushing the board to reinstate the program after seeing the county mow down a lot of Iowa native vegetation deep into the ditches. The program was cut in 2006 by the board under budget constraints.

“I don’t think there was the interest or any real excitement at the end last time,” Board Chairman Rick Larkin said.  “It seemed like it just went on for a couple years and we had to make some budgets cuts to something that wouldn’t effect our mandated projects. When we discontinued the program it saved us about $1o0,000.”

Chase said as the program developed in Des Moines County, the cost of the program came down due to decreased fertilizer costs.

The Des Moines County roadside program falls under the direction of the roads department, where Lee County is considering having Lee County Conservation Board inherit the program.  Lee County Engineer Ernie Steffensmeier, who oversees the secondary roads program in Lee County said he believes the program should be under the Conservation Board.

After the board meeting, supervisors went into on-going budget workshops and Tom Buckley, the Lee County Conservation Board director, gave his budget presentation. As an addendum to his budget proposal, Buckley included approximately $200,ooo to pay for the roadside program.

“You know.. you don’t know. I’m cautiously optimistic, let’s put it that way.  I thought (the supervisors) were interested in what Jeff had to say,” Sprenger said.

Buckley, who’s retiring at the end of June, said there could be some cost savings through a program called the Iowa Living Roadway Trust Fund, but the budget he presented was reflective of what actual costs may be.

“A significant part of the first budgeting would be the salary-and-benefits part for two people,” he said.  “And then I think the best approach, if the program is reinstated, would be to do a roadside inventory similar to what was done in 1989 so we we can figure out exactly what needs to be done and what problematic areas we have.

The budget included equipment costs and fertilizer and seed expenditures, but he said the Living Trust funds could help provide some additional seed, probably about an additional $7,000 in seed.

“Hopefully the supervisors will feel that’s affordable. It’s always tough to add extra to the budget,” Sprenger said. “I also like the idea that they were going to ask if they could work with Des Moines County on sharing some equipment. And Jeff is a wonderful resource person.”

The idea to reinstate the roadside program was submitted to supervisors last year but was left out of the budget for 2016-2017.

“Tom and Ernie both did request it last year. Hopefully, we’re showing a few more citizens and government groups wanting this. If the supervisors would hear from people or people would give them a call and tell them they do agree with the advantages of this program that would help too,” Sprenger said.

“Since I’ve talked to a couple of different people, they have some favorite spots and they want to make sure they don’t get mowed. The more of them I can find out about, we can mark those. Ernie was receptive to that idea and even suggested something like that. Those are very valuable and unique areas of the county and if people are aware of places where pheasants or quail are being seen, we can go a bit easier. We can do it in away that’s least disruptive.”

Sprenger said she is willing to speak with people concerned about the topic or people who have places they would like to have the county pay special attention to. She said she can be reached at 563-221-1788 for anyone who would like additional information on the program.

Buckley said the program started as a part of secondary roads and then became its own department with its own budget outside of roads and conservation. But an independent county auditor recommended that the program be absorbed into the Conservation board budget.

“There is an IRVM professional group within the state that is a good place to find out what is going on in the field and get some tips and tricks for what will make that program successful. This would allow the roadside manager to get involved in that education and that would be helpful,” Buckley said.

He also said a truck could be inherited from the Conservation Board at a reduced cost of buying a vehicle. Buckley said he has already budgeted to trade out a vehicle and could transfer that instead and purchase a new vehicle for the board at a savings of about $10,000.

Since 1990, the LRTF has funded more than $17 million for research and demonstration projects, vegetation inventories, education and training programs, gateway landscaping, snow and erosion control, and roadside enhancements, according to the Iowa Department of Transportation.

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