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Panel gives OK to turn County Road 41 to gravel

If there is any remaining hope of convincing the state to take over County Road 41, that hope will soon be ground up and spit out along with the road's hardtop surface.

If there is any remaining hope of convincing the state to take over County Road 41, that hope will soon be ground up and spit out along with the road's hardtop surface.

The Davison County Commission decided Tuesday at the courthouse in Mitchell to convert the road to gravel. The vote was 4-1, with Commissioner Jerry Fischer casting the lone "no" vote. About 20 people attended the meeting.

The decision effectively ended years of disagreement over who should maintain the rural, 16-mile stretch of road in the southern part of the county. The road was originally part of state Route 42 but became county property in 1984, for reasons nobody seems fully able to explain now.

Ever since then, the road has fallen steadily into disrepair as county officials and local legislators have lobbied unsuccessfully to get it transferred back to the state highway system. County commissioners have continually said the county lacks the money to rebuild and maintain the road.

The county commissioners who voted Tuesday to convert the road to gravel did so begrudgingly. They said the gravel will be only temporary, because they hope to pave the road again in one year after a firm gravel base has been established.

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"Somehow, we've got to get a base on that road," said Commissioner Gerald Weiss. "Without a base, we don't have anything."

Fischer said he opposes turning the road to gravel because it will be too dusty and difficult to maintain. He said the road could have been mostly rebuilt by now if the county had gradually committed funds to it, instead of funding projects such as a rebuilt road for an ethanol plant in the northern part of the county.

"We're robbing Peter to pay Paul," Fischer said.

There is currently no plan or cost estimate to eventually pave County Road 41. Widening the road would require land acquisition and drainage work, according to County Highway Superintendent Duane Zard, and neither has been researched.

Grinding the road into gravel is expected to cost $60,000 to $70,000. An additional $2,000 per mile will be needed for one round of dust control during the summer, Zard said, with a second round possible at $1,000 per mile.

Only 11 miles of the 16-mile road will be converted to gravel. The state recently improved the west three miles to serve as a road construction detour, and the state also improved the east three miles when it rebuilt state Route 37.

People who live along County Road 41 or drive it regularly spoke at Tuesday's meeting. Some agreed that temporarily turning the road to gravel may be the best available option. If the county cannot afford to rebuild the entire road after a year, some suggested, perhaps at least one mile of the road should be rebuilt every year. Others said the road should be maintained and other, less-traveled county roads should be turned to gravel.

Following the hour-long discussion of County Road 41, the commission discussed spring load limits for another half-hour. The load limits are supposed to protect county roads from soft spring conditions that could cause them to deteriorate as badly as County Road 41.

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The commission voted to lift this spring's load limits on all but one road, because ground has firmed up somewhat after a very wet start to the season. The load limit will remain in place on four miles of 245th Street, which is a precaution against heavy trucks that travel the road en route to the Poet Biorefining ethanol plant.

The commission discussed an earlier proposal to set an 80,000-pound gross vehicle weight limit on all county roads, but the proposal encountered strong opposition from several people in the audience. Ways to limit wear and tear on roads will continue to be discussed, commissioners said.

In other business Tuesday, county commissioners:

n Engaged Davison County Extension Educator Ray Gosmire in a lengthy discussion about the finances of the Davison County Fairgrounds complex, which Commissioner Dick Ziegler said brings in only $10,000 of revenue compared to $270,000 of expenses; the discussion ended with Gosmire agreeing to keep commissioners more apprised of the events that occur at the complex and to work with the fairgrounds advisory board on facility use fees that could be added to meetings at the complex.

n Increased the mileage paid to elected officials from 32 cents a mile to 37 cents a mile, pursuant to state legislation that will take effect in July.

n Authorized Auditor Susan Kiepke to purchase a new laser printer after getting quotes from at least two places.

n Authorized Kiepke to hire a third deputy auditor, at a pay rate to be determined later, after Kiepke said the office is taking on more responsibilities and has been staffed by as many as four deputies in the past.

n Approved the annual renewal of beer licenses for Mike's Corner and the Kongo Club, and noted that the beer license for the defunct TLC Bar was not submitted for renewal and will now be one of three county beer licenses available to new applicants.

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n Authorized the hiring of a seasonal employee at $8 an hour to work with the weed supervisor.

n Authorized Equalization Director Kathy Goetsch to sign a contract for computer software that will automate many of the tasks in her office, at a price of $16,000 the first year and about $8,300 in yearly maintenance.

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