County roads under review

Members of the fact-finding committee nearly filled the county commission meeting room Monday. Chair Linda Peters (red jacket) said the group identified communication and road maintenance as key isNearly every topic of discussion at Mon­­day’s Marion County Commission meeting dealt with roads, ranging from trucks hauling gravel and causing excessive dust to a maintenance agreement involving a wind farm.

In addition, Linda Peters, chairperson of a fact-finding road committee, provided recommendations based on the 18-member group.

“We identified the two main concerns throughout the county (concerning roads), which are communication and road maintenance,” Peters said.

With about 1,600 miles of road in the county, Peters said more and better communication would lead to a positive working relationship between the Road and Bridge Department and the landowners and residents.

Peters said the current road maintenance system requires habitual complaining and calling to be heard for results, which end up spilling over to one of the commissioners being called.

“The ‘Squeaky Wheel Syndrome’ doesn’t allow for all citizens (of the county) to be heard, nor is it an appropriate management tool,” Peters said.

Another area she identified was the frustration land­owners and others have when they don’t have a voice, and how that frustration can build until it is out of control.

Last week’s encounter with Marion County Park and Lake residents was a good example of extreme frustration.

“We also need ways to increase visibility,” she said.

Some ideas could be using the newspaper to let the public know what roads are being worked on.

“When a plan is developed in the county, only a few know the plan and where it’s happening,” she said.

Commissioner Kent Beck­er said another resource for disseminating information is the county website.

“The Road and Bridge Department could update it, and we could say where equipment is moving to,” he said. “It would be subject to change.”

Rex Savage, representing Doyle Township, said he appreciated how Jesse Hamm, Road and Bridge Department supervisor, consistently came to the committee meetings.

Another issue, he said, may involve reapportioning budget money by hiring at least two more road grader operators for the 16 machines the county has available.

Then, instead of raising taxes, Savage suggested other years could be used to repair or replace equipment as necessary.

“Drainage problems are widespread throughout the county,” he added.

Peters said road-grader operators are key to the success of the county’s infrastructure.

She said some ways that could happen include:

• identifying that the county employ good employees, but at times they are frustrated as landowners tell them one thing and supervisors tell them something different.

• identifying the many types of terrain in the county, which leads to controversy within the organization of how they should be maintained—whether it is sand, gravel or dirt.

• identifying that in order to retain a road in working condition, it needs to have ditches for drainage and a crown to allow water to move off the road.

• identifying the current road system is difficult to maintain, let alone improve without additional blades in the county.

“Our miles in the county have not shrunk, but the number of employees to maintain or improve the roads have,” Peters said.

• identifying the need for leadership to create unity inside the Road and Bridge Department.

• identifying new technology or equipment that should be researched to improve maintenance efficiency.

• identifying the need for the county to work with area farmers and the Farm Service Association to establish roads that need to have ditches and not be farmed shut.

Enforcement needs to be established, Peters added.

“If a person were to be assigned to meet with individual townships and their trustees (on the communication side), to learn and have a working knowledge of the road systems inside that township in developing not only short-term, but also long range planning, we believe it would start the healing process,” she said.

Regarding road maintenance, Peters said if a person were assigned to work on more hands-on training, improving or upgrading equipment, leadership within departments, hiring new staff (and more), the committee believes this could allow that person to focus more on employees and the roads needing maintenance.

The committee, she said, includes: Jim Bernhardt, Clark Township; Marty Dalke, Liberty; Clifford Hett, Fairplay; Max Hayen, Marion; Leona Hajek, Lost Springs; Nick Kraus, Centre North; Paul Penner, Risley; Gary Spohn, Colfax; Greg Washmon, Menno; Marcus Carlson, Clear Creek; Chase Gann, Lehigh; Eldon Hett, Catlin; Vernon Klingenberg, Peabody; Tim Makovec, Grant; Mark Unruh, Moore, and Peters, Savage and Hamm.

Dust too much

Melissa Zieammermann, who lives at 220th and Upland, asked the commissioners if they could help with a problem involving dust from trucks recently hauling tons of gravel and involving 3,000 loads going on 220th in about 45 days.

“Sometimes trucks would be going by our home seven times in less than an hour,” she said. “We have never had this happen before, and we have lived there 16 years.”

By not taking the regular U.S. Highway 77 through the front entrance at the quarry, and instead taking the back, the dust was “insane,” she said.

When getting mail from her mailbox, Zieammer­mann said it would be covered in dust, three cats were killed when trucks went by and their horses were sick because of dust in the water.

“I would also need to pick up chunks of cement before driving out,” she said.

Even though this particular project is finished, Zieammermann asked if something could be done in the future.

Greg Diepenbrock, who did the hauling, said he needed the gravel for expanding his feedlot, and the reason for using the back entrance was because of the distance it saved, which was six miles round trip for each truck.

“There was really nothing I could do about it (the dust),” Diepenbrock said.

He did suggest Zieam­mermann consider watering down the edge of the roadway by her house.

Negotiation on roads

The commissioners heard from Kirkham Michael regarding the haul route contract approval with respect to the Diamond Vista Wind Project.

Becker said the county doesn’t have an engineer on staff and wondered if this type of road maintenance agreement would ever allow the county to enlist a KM engineer from time to time.

“Down the road, if we need someone to help improve our roads, and KM would have an intimate knowledge of part of those roads,” he said.

Commissioner Dianne Novak challenged Becker’s comment, suggesting these were two separate things.

Commissioners agreed the contract should be for the road maintenance agreement dealing with the wind farm project only and roads associated with it.

Jon Halbgewachs, senior vice president of Kirkham Michael, said the area is about 100 sections of ground.

“It is a huge footprint, and we have got to have a haul route,” he said. “We would like to get started.”

The road maintenance agreement would include pre-, post- and structural valuation in road maintenance with KM allocated $650,000 for the project, but provided Tradewind Energy approves.

After a 20-minute executive session, regarding Tradewind Energy, commissioners and Pat Hughes of Wichita, the county’s legal representative, the commissioners decided to authorize Hughes to negotiate the road maintenance agreement and decommissioning agreement.

Once an agreement is reached between KM and Tradewind Energy, the agreement will go back to the commission for either approval or denial.

Other business

In other business, the commissioners:

• took action to allow Tradewind Energy to apply for the construction permit for its laydown yard before the road maintenance agreement is finalized.

• went into a 20-minute executive session with Hughes and Susan Robson, county counselor, to discuss potential litigation.

No decision was made when the commissioners returned to open session.

• voted to give Christmas bonuses in the amount of $150 to all full-time employees and all non-seasonal part time employees working at least 500 hours in 2017, and who are still employed.

• voted to accept bids for a county counselor in 2018.

• briefly discussed the open burning resolution, which could be adopted at the next meeting starting at 9 a.m. Dec. 29.

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