Aurora Co. residents fume over road breakup
PLANKINTON — About 100 Aurora County residents showed their displeasure to their county commissioners Tuesday on a decision to break up six miles of paved road east of Stickney.
Last week, 262nd Street was broken up to be rebuilt and have a gravel base built up. The part that was broken up includes six miles from Stickney east to the Davison County line and connects to 397th Avenue, a road that goes south out of Mount Vernon.
Because of a small road budget, there's no guarantee the county is going to build the road back to a hard-surface such as chip-seal or asphalt, which left area residents asking questions during the regular Aurora County Commission meeting at the community room in the courthouse in Plankinton.
Most of the questions surrounded why the road was even ripped up, when many residents felt it worked fine.
"It had a little bit of a crown and a few potholes, but I thought it was a pretty good road," said Justin Bolle, who lives near Stickney and said the county would have been better off to chip-seal and fog-seal the road.
The road was previously covered with a chip-seal treatment, or what is also known as a blotter surface. But the commissioners said the road has taken a beating from heavy trucks in recent years, and a strong gravel road treated with magnesium chloride can be built. That's an option that's becoming more popular, Commissioner Pat Cranny said.
Travis Clark, who lives about four miles east of Stickney and a quarter-mile from the road, pressed the commissioners on whose decision it was to break up the road. Clark said there was no indication of the construction in commission's minutes, nor was there a motion taken by commission for the project or a request for public comment prior to construction. Commissioner Pat Cranny, who led the meeting, said the commission allows Highway Superintendent Roger Konechne to make decisions on which county roads are worked on.
"It's his call. We don't micromanage the superintendent," Cranny said. "I knew about (the break up), but I didn't know when it was going to happen."
The matter wasn't published in the meeting minutes, and public input was not taken before the decision, which was one of the many points of contention for residents on Tuesday.
"There has to be a protocol followed," Clark said. "Are we going to start doing things by the book? Because what was done here was not by the book and maybe even illegal."
As the meeting pressed on, frustration mounted on both sides.
"I didn't ask for this crap," said Cranny of the backlash.
Konechne said it cost about $40,000 to take out the road, and the total cost will be more than $100,000 when gravel is added and the road is finished. Building a hard-surface road, such as chip-seal or asphalt, for six miles would bring the cost closer to $1 million.
Ron Gillen, a Mitchell area engineer with the state Department of Transportation, said he believes the road will be safer now and felt the project was necessary.
"That road, even though you chip seal it, it's still a worn-out blotter surface and it doesn't have enough gravel underneath to support truck traffic," he said. "If you go through another harvest season, you're going to have bigger and longer openings in the road."
But the county, which has a $1.7 million road budget, likely won't be able to afford an asphalt upgrade to the road. It was last rebuilt in 1991 and is coming to the end of a 20-year life expectancy.
"The county, in my mind, was committed to taking it back to being a gravel road," Gillen said. "The decision at that point is whether or not you have the money and what you can afford, whether that's gravel or chloride or blotter or asphalt."
Greg Vavra, a field services manager with the South Dakota Local Transportation Aid Program and former Jerauld County Highway Superintendent, said the Aurora County has 450 miles of roads, including 80 miles of hard surface roads. That doesn't include the 453 miles of township roads in the county and his assessment of those was blunt.
"Quit maintaining the township roads. You can't afford it," Vavra said.
Bolle reiterated that the county's residents wants to see their oil roads maintained. But the six-mile stretch east of Stickney is tore up and the county has vowed to finish the job with gravel and reassess it at the end of the year.
"We made a mistake," Cranny said. "The decision was made and we're going to let Roger finish the job. And we're going to fix it."