IRON RIVER—As a long, long, hard winter dragged on, members of the Iron County Road Commission talked about winter-related complications during their recent January meeting.
One of them had to deal with the commission’s policy on plowing snow during weekends. A minor storm over the previous weekend was fresh in mind.
Superintendent Doug Tomasoski said the snow totaled 3 or 4 inches, but it was soft and fluffy. “You can move through that snow,” he noted.
The county sent out plows on the state highways and primary roads that get the most traffic that weekend, but left it at that.
Tomasoski said the decision on plowing other roads rests on the road foremen in each half of the county. One person is on call each weekend. If he decides the roads are unsafe or if traffic can’t move, the plows go out.
• Rural residents were also reminded of the Road Commission’s policy on rural mailboxes damaged during snowplowing. If a county truck or equipment hits the mailbox, the Road Commission will replace it. If mailboxes are only hit by plowed snow and ice, it’s the homeowner’s responsibility.
• Commissioner Joe Sabol noted increased problems from private plows pushing snow onto highways. “I guess it’s really getting bad up in Houghton,” he said.
Other commissioners sounded skeptical that the state would crack down on that. “I’ve heard that forever,” said one.
• Tomasoski noted that Marquette County had gotten a ticket or warning from the State Police about getting over-width permits for snow removal if their plows have a wing down. If permits are needed for wing plows, he said, that law could also apply to graders.
There is also a question about liability for plow trucks going over the center line, since the Road Commission is not considered an emergency responder. Tomasoski said if that’s the case, legislation could be coming quickly. “It’s not just us. It’s MDOT” that would be concerned about such a rule.
He said that whole thing could be a question of how the laws are interpreted: State Police officials following the letter of the law rather than the intent.
“How do you take the snow off the yellow line in the middle if you can’t get out there and scrape it?” Sabol said. “This is crazy.”
• The board agreed to purchase $11,787 of equipment for a used truck it recently bought.
The Road Commission bid $4,744 for the truck from MDOT’s Baraga garage, knowing in advance that it probably would need a new transmission and underbody. The transmission costs $5,065, and the underbody is $6,722.
Head mechanic Dean Stolberg said equivalent trucks are selling for $25,000 to $30,000, “without knowing the condition of them.” The Road Commission’s purchased truck, including repairs, will cost it about $16,500.
• The commission discussed its policy on abandoning roads or rights of way. Attorney Mark Tousignant said changes are needed because of a recent court decision.
The present format requires seven people or all owners affected to present a petition asking that a right of way be abandoned. Tomasoski said that section needs to be amended. Similar policies will be reviewed.
One major concern, Tousignant said, is whether someone can be cut off from public access to their property by an abandonment.
• Commissioners voted to seek bids for two new pickup trucks. They will seek bids on both regular (half ton) and extended cab (three-quarter ton) trucks and see what the price difference is before deciding whether to get the bigger trucks.
• Tomasoski reported on problems with pop-outs on U.S. 2-141 south of Crystal Falls. It’s the same problem as last year, he said, and is a construction issue, “a preventative maintenance type of thing that didn’t work,” Tomasoski said. He added that Mike Premo of the Crystal Falls MDOT office is working on moving up a road project to address the problem.
“It’s not our fault,” Sabol said. “I want to make the public understand.”
For now, Tomasoski said, the county road crews are patching the road regularly, using a hot box the commission bought after last winter’s problems.