BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
MONTROSE – Two county supervisors are asking the county roads department to take another look at a policy that would prompt quicker responses to icy road conditions on county roads during non-regular service hours.
At Tuesday’s regular meeting of the Lee County Board of Supervisors, Supervisor Gary Folluo asked County Engineer Ernie Steffensmeier, who also oversees the county roads department, what the county’s policy was if roads became icy after county crews had gone home for the day.
Steffensmeier had appeared at the request of board Chairman Don Hunold as a result of some recent concerns about icy county roads in the later evening hours.
Steffensmeier said when winter weather is eminent the county road crews gear up early in the morning.
“Generally speaking, when we have a storm coming – whether it’s snow, sleet, ice, whatever, we plan on being on the road at 5 a.m. We have the guys come in at 4:30 so at 5 we have the guys on the road clearing,” he said. “Depending on how the storm goes, we’ll work as late at 6 p.m. Sometimes they have the roads cleared and the salt and sand down and they will quit early, but our normal hours during a storm is 5 a.m. to 6 p.m.”
Folluo and Supervisor Matt Pflug asked what can be done when the roads are getting so icy they are impassable after 6 p.m.
Steffensmeier said if snow is hampering the roads, the county won’t come back out until 5 a.m. to allow all the snow to fall and then start clearing it in the morning. He said he doesn’t have the staff to pull some back to plow later in the evening because then the 200 miles of paved road, not to mention gravel roads, won’t get cleared during the day when everyone is out and about. He also said gravel roads usually don’t get attention unless they have three or more inches of snow on them.
Pflug said what happens if the county were to get dumped on after 6 p.m.
“If you knock off at six and we get 8 or 9 inches between then and 5 a.m., you’re saying we’re OK?” Pflug said.
“Generally speaking, we won’t go back out until 5 because it’s best if we can wait and then clean them all off when it’s done snowing,” Steffensmeier said.
Folluo said he was more concerned about ice covered roads.
“Right now the sheriff’s department will contact dispatch and then dispatch will contact someone on the county roads department and we will make a decision then,” Steffensmeier said.
He said it takes his whole road crew 12 to 14 hours during, or after, a snow storm to clear all 200 miles of paved roadway in the county. He added that most counties in the area do a single shift of 12 to 14 hours.
“So you’re saying it’s a staffing issue,” Pflug said.
Folluo said he’d like to see the conversation continue on a contingency plan specific to icy conditions where a group of two to three county employees can come out and handle dangerous situations. Ben Huff, Lee County Assistant Engineer, said it would take at least two employees because they never want a situation where a person is alone responding to a situation and typically the person hauling and cleaning can’t load the truck as well.
“I think we need a contingency plan for when precipitation is projected for 4 or 5 o’clock and we shut off at 6,” he said. “We need to have something in place for when the sheriff or emergency crews call and say the roads are impassable. I think you may need to send some home early if you know something is coming, and say, ‘hey, you may get called back’. We have to do something better for the people of Lee County.”
Lee County Sheriff Stacy Weber said he could let the county roads staff know what areas get really bad on the ice and help with the contingency plans. He also suggested having a radio channel where the roads crew and the deputies could speak directly to each other.
Hunold asked Steffensmeier and Huff to work up some kind of contingency plan for the safety of the motorists in late night icy conditions and bring suggestions back to the board for further consideration.
“Doing nothing, that’s scary,” Pflug said.