BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
MONTROSE – After several weeks of discussion and a review of county policy regarding maintenance of county paved roads during icy weather, the county has decided to keep the status quo.
Following Tuesday’s regular Lee County Board of Supervisors’ meeting, the supervisors held a workshop to discuss the issue with County Engineer Ernie Steffensmeier, who oversees the county’s secondary road program.
Steffensmeier said the county’s current protocol when snow or ice is predicted is to have crews on the road starting at 5 a.m. and working until 6 p.m.
Supervisors Gary Folluo and Matt Pflug expressed concern about the amount of time where no crews are on the road keeping roads safe for travel. The issue had previously been in front of the supervisors following snow and icy conditions on county roads earlier this year. Chairman Don Hunold had asked Steffensmeier to look at the county code to see if something can be worked out to better handle the situations.
Current county ordinance for emergency conditions is 4-2-5 and reads as follows: Emergency Conditions – “1. The sequence of service may be suspended during “Emergency” conditions. An “Emergency” condition shall be considered as one where a loss of life is probable, where a serious injury has occurred, or where extensive loss of property is imminent. These conditions should be verified through a physician’s or sheriff’s office. The County will respond to all “Emergency” conditions, either during or after a snowstorm. 2. The provisions of the Chapter shall be further suspended in the event the Governor, by proclamation, implements the State disaster plan, or the Chairman of the Board of Supervisors, by proclamation, implements the County disaster plan. If such occurs, the County personnel and equipment shall be immediately subject to the direction of the Governor or the Chairperson of the Board of Supervisors.
Folluo said the policy is very clear and emergencies should be handled per the code, but defining what is an emergency is murky.
“I think our policy is very clear. Emergency. That’s the key word. We’ve got an emergency situation where there’s ice at an intersection, the sheriff’s seen two cars going through it already, dispatch a truck out there and get it sanded. I don’t think that’s too much to ask,” Folluo said.
“Or you have a situation where you have an ambulance trying to get up a hill and they can’t get up the hill and the sheriff department calls and says send somebody out.”
Assistant Engineer Ben Hull said changing a policy could expose the county to litigation if crews are going to a trouble spot and pass through an intersection without treating and then an accident occurs there.
Steffensmeier said the county does respond to emergency situations that are relayed to the county roads department from the local law enforcement or spotters.
“If there’s been an accident or other issue, we’re going to send those vehicles out,” Steffensmeier said. “We do have spotters that go out at night and check those roads and stuff like that and then we make decisions on what time we call crews in.”
Folluo then clarified that crews can be called out early to deal with those situations.
Huff said the department does use a DOT weather application that uses road surface temperatures to more accurately predict favorable ice conditions.
Pflug said the issue boils down to manpower.
“What it gets down to is your guys can only do so much work. But the DOT will hire seasonal drivers to cover the gaps. Is that something that we can discuss?”
Steffensmeier said it may not be feasible because the county may not use them enough to make it worth their while to be available.
“State of Iowa does it, so those people must be sitting around waiting,” Pflug said.
Hunold said if there’s an issue with a big snow storm at 8 p.m. and the county pulls crews in to handle that, the crews will not be able to work during the next morning when travel is much heavier.
“We’re back to the same dilemma if you’re talking with (Lee County Sheriff) Stacy (Weber) and finding the slick spots, but I don’t know if you can make a policy to hit the heaviest route,” Hunold said.
The discussion wrapped up with leaving the policy as it stands and responding to emergencies on an as-determined basis by law enforcement and information gathered by county and state officials.