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Property owners voice objections to grinding county roads to gravel

About a dozen area property owners jammed the commissioner's room at the courthouse Tuesday to register their objections to any plan that might return county roads to gravel.

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LeRoy Dodd, of rural Mount Vernon, speaks out during Tuesday's county commission meeting. Dodd was among a dozen area farmers and businessmen who said they will oppose any plan to grind up deteriorating asphalt roads and return them to gravel. (Ross Dolan/Republic Photo)

About a dozen area property owners jammed the commissioner's room at the courthouse Tuesday to register their objections to any plan that might return county roads to gravel.

Commissioner Dave Weitala deflected any blame aimed at Highway Superintendent Rusty Weinberg for his development of a list of potential grinding candidates. Weinberg was simply working at the direction of the commissioners, Weitala said, and the list elicited the desired community input.

Reaction to the road inventory has been swift and negative.

Some, like Frank and Angie Luczak, who live in Perry Township, and Ken Bussmus, who lives off Betts Road, said gravel roads would damage property values and create safety hazards.

LeRoy Dodd, a longtime resident of rural Mount Vernon, said he was "just opposed" to returning roads to gravel.

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"I recall those gravel roads," Dodd said. "When the oil roads went in, we all thought we died and went to heaven."

Dodd said rural farmers are doing their part to preserve roads.

"We don't like driving to town with a half-load of grain, but if that's what it takes, we've got to do it to save our roads," he said.

Overloaded trucks from outside the county often aren't as reasonable, said others at the meeting.

Loren VanOverschelde, who lives north of Mitchell, said locals treat the roads with respect, "but we always get a few yahoos coming through." Overloaded trucks can damage roads in just a few trips, he said.

Dan Froning, owner of Central Mountain Transport, a Mitchell-based trucking firm, recommended restricting Betts Road to local traffic. North Betts Road, also known as 403rd Avenue, is on the list of potential candidates for grinding.

Restricting the road, Froning said, "would cut down on 95 percent of the traffic and the trucks I and others have wouldn't beat the road to heck." It would be a way to save the roads and save money, he said.

Commission Chairman Jerry Fischer said restrictions in one area would simply add traffic pressure in another area.

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Commissioners Gerald Weiss and John Claggett favor directing trucks to designated haul roads, but Weinberg said that only four roads in the county -- Interstate 90, State Highway 37, 254th Street and 247th Street from Highway 37 west to the ethanol plant -- have sufficient base to qualify as haul roads. Other county roads are not built for heavy hauling traffic.

Weinberg said posting Betts Road at 6 tons per axle might serve to keep heavy trucks on the interstate.

But Brenda Bode, a county planning commissioner and Mount Vernon area farmer, cautioned against becoming overly restrictive.

"You don't want to drive away our supporting neighbors. The products in those trucks bring money into Davison County," she said.

No paved roads have been officially designated for grinding, and on Tuesday, members made no immediate proposals.

The fact remains that there's not enough available cash to pave or maintain the roads, Weinberg said.

The commissioners also expressed frustration at an insufficient $2 million highway budget. The commissioners and Weinberg expressed doubt the county will receive any stimulus funds.

Fischer thanked residents for their input. A public discussion on the topic is expected be scheduled at a later date.In other business:

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- Commissioners briefly discussed open storage space on the fourth floor of the courtroom. Ziegler recommended developing a plan for the fourth-floor space. No deadline was set and no person was given responsibility for the development of such a plan.

- Commissioners approved the purchase of five new radar units for Sheriff's Office patrol vehicles. The new units, said Chief Deputy Steve Brink, will have a three-year warranty and will replace current trouble-prone Decatur radar units. The county's share of each will be $1,000. The commissioners declared four of the old units as surplus, so they may be sold.

- Director of Equalization Kathy Goetsch said Vantage Point Solutions has decided not to pursue the use of county-developed Geographic Information Systems (GIS) shape files. Register of Deeds Deb Young said various county offices have worked four to five years compiling GIS information.

The system was developed at the expense of taxpayers, said Young, and "I don't want to see us giving it away. We have put a lot of money into it and I would like to protect the taxpayers from our efforts being taken for the benefit of one entity to prosper, without any remuneration to the county."

Goetsch said that basic GIS information and mapping outlines eventually will be made available to all via the Internet. A fee schedule will likely be developed for more detailed data. The project should be completed in about one year, she said.

- Commissioners recognized retiring Weed Board member Don Williams with a plaque commemorating more than 45 years on that board. "We got rid of some weeds, but there's a lot more comin'," Williams quipped.

- Commissioners set 5 p.m. March 30 as the deadline to receive bids for Weed Department chemicals. Bids will be opened at 9:30 a.m. on March 31. No late walk-in bids will be accepted.

- At the request of Mitchell Rural Fire Association treasurer Burt Wilson, commissioners set an 11 a.m. March 10 public hearing for a budget supplement hearing for nearly $6,000 that would be put toward a new $53,000 grass rig for the association.

- Approved expenses for Weinberg and a highway department worker to travel to Casper, Wyo., to examine a 1996 paving machine the county may purchase for $35,000.

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