IRON RIVER—We’ll say what everybody else has been thinking: This has been the winter from hell!
Incessant subzero cold. Icy winds from the northwest. A moderate snowpack that has no reason to melt. So how do you follow that?
With the spring from hell, of course!
Low temperatures crashed down into the minus 30s again late last week, so road limits are still some time off. But with the sun getting higher and days getting longer, it’s just a matter of time.
Then, a whole set of new problems start.
The Iron County Road Commission and township officials are worried about what is shaping up as a long, severe spring breakup. It was a major topic during the Road Commission’s Feb. 18 regular meeting.
The main concern is truckers and timber haulers. Yes, over 95 percent of the drivers are good, conscientious people who understand how important it is to protect the roads on which their livelihood depends.
But there is always that 2 percent who think they can beat the system by trying to get around road weight limits, regardless of the damage a loaded truck can cause. They create a lot of worry.
Superintendent Doug Tomasoski noted an email he had received from the Timbermen’s Association and the Michigan Forest Products Council, asking for more consideration of road restrictions this year due to the severe winter. “Basically, they are asking for consideration for night hauling and such.”
Conrad Stromberg of Connor Sports Flooring has also added his voice.
The Road Commission, said Tomasoski, tries to be very flexible. “The intent is not to shut things down,” he said. “but to protect the investment taxpayers have made statewide and locally on our roads.”
The county’s policy is well established, he said. “Our local people have been generally good.”
But those others are on Grant Helgemo’s mind. “I’m aware of how important the logging industry is to our community,” the Bates Township supervisor said. “But I am also very aware that the majority of the loggers are not from Iron County.
“I know they pay a fuel tax, but they have not contributed a cent to the road tax that our residents are paying. I would like to see you be more strict this year than in previous years because of the frost.”
“I think the loggers understand,” answered Road Commissioner Joe Sabol, “this has been one unusual winter. They’ve got to work with us a little this year and be a little more patient with us.
“If it breaks up fast, we’re going to be in big trouble.”
Tomasoski said different MDOT frost tubes are telling a grim story, with measurements of 76, 90 and 91 inches. (In fact, the situation is even worse: A Road Commission official said that’s just how long the frost tubes are—the frost has gone beyond the bottom of the tube. How far down the frost really is, nobody can say.)
Like Helgemo, Mastodon Township Trustee Ray Kudwa also voiced worry about log trucks and roads the township recently spent money on. “We have loggers going across brand new roads that we just did last year, and we’re very concerned about what’s coming up in the springtime.”
Townships, said Tomasoski, do not have jurisdiction over weight laws and enforcement. In fact, the county has no power to keep trucks off roads where there is no other access--until road restrictions go into effect.
Once that happens, everything changes.
With road limits in effect, the county has the final say. If possible violations are seen, officials should call the Road Commission office, the State Police or the Sheriff’s Department.
The Road Commission, said Tomasoski, will issue limited road permits, based on the weather and road conditions, on a case-by-case basis. The permits are for partial loads, at certain hours and for a specific road and specific vehicle.
All the restrictions are printed on the permit issued by the Road Commission office. These permits are faxed to the Sheriff’s Department each day.
If the driver gets a permit, it must be with him in the truck. If he doesn’t have the permit in his possession (even if he forgot it at the office), it’s a violation. Tomasoski said there is no such thing as “verbal permission.”
While the Sheriff’s Department patrol vehicles often don’t have scales, they have the authority to stop a truck and hold it until scales can be brought, however long it takes.
The Road Commission also limits the number of loads carried on certain roads. “The foremen will usually let me know where there’s a lot of activity,” Tomasoski said. “Even though the road is frozen and it’s cold in the evening, the number of loads going over it matters.”
He also said that when road restrictions are put into effect, it’s for the entire county, even if roads in the north are still rock-solid. Drivers who want to haul on those roads still need a permit. “Once they’re on, they’re on.”
As the roadbeds thaw and finally dry out in spring, restrictions usually are lifted in stages, going from south to north. But when they take effect, it’s for the entire county.
Helgemo said most of the loggers are very aware and keep a close eye on the weather, to be aware when restrictions are about to start. “They’re more conscious of it than anybody.”
• Mansfield Township Supervisor Richard Dryjanski asked about mailboxes damaged recently by plowed snow. “Mine, too.”
One question he has heard a lot: Do the plow trucks have to go so fast on local roads?
Tomasoski’s answer: “In a year like this, yes! You want to throw the snow as far as possible.” If the snow is only pushed to the shoulder, he said, the road will soon get narrower after later storms. The plows are designed to throw the snow up and over.
Sabol said many people put plywood panels in front of their mailboxes, and that helps.
Helgemo said people who plow private driveways need to plow out more around mailboxes. “If they would clean out a little bit by their mailboxes, they’re not going to have this problem. It’s common sense.”