IRON RIVER—After discussing the idea over the last several months, the Iron County Road Commission voted during its Feb. 18 regular meeting to try using summer temporary workers this year.
They will be used to free up permanent employees for other duties, especially grading unpaved roads. Commissioner Ernest Schmidt has been pushing the board to give the idea a try.
The Road Commission has employed winter temporary workers for years, but summer temps are something new.
Schmidt made the original motion at the December meeting, that up to four temporary employees be hired from May to October. It was tabled then and no action was taken in January.
Much of the February discussion echoed previous ones.
Schmidt said the biggest problem on gravel roads are the berms that develop on the sides of the road, preventing water from running off. “We’ve got to get rid of the berms.”
Superintendent Doug Tomasoski said the berms are created when roads are graded by trucks equipped with underslung blades. When that is done, the edges of the roads are missed, no matter how carefully the work is done.
By using road graders, that problem can be avoided. “That’s how the berms build up.”
Schmidt wants the temporary workers so that the Road Commission’s grader operators can be freed from other work to operate graders more often.
“Whatever attention you give to a gravel road, it’s going to be better than the way they are right now,” Schmidt said.
Board Chairman Dan Germic wondered what the Road Commission would do “if we have a real bad spring, with a bunch of washouts. Do we want to make that commitment now, to hire people, when we don’t know what’s coming up this spring?
“What if we spend all our money fixing roads that are washed out, and we don’t have money to hire summer help?”
Schmidt: “If we had ditching and a crown, a lot of these washouts wouldn’t be there.”
Board Member Chris Sholander suggested having a private firm work on roads. Germice said that could be an option if the right personnel aren’t available. “Right now, our graders are almost new. They are state-of-the-art, they’ve got the slope on them, to raise the angle.”
Tomasoski said some unpaved roads just need a touch-up, and the drainage is OK. But others “are to the point of almost needing projects.” More will be known after the spring breakup is over.
Germic said the Road Commission should try using temporary workers for a year to see if it makes a difference. “If we don’t try it, we will never know.”
Tomasoski said there is enough work for the Road Commission “that we could hire probably 10 people each side [of the county], and they would be kept busy doing stuff that should be done.”
But the Road Commission doesn’t have that kind of money. “We have to prioritize. We can’t do everything.”
Road Commissioner Joe Sabol said the foremen should prepare a list of roads that really need work this year. “Work on those roads as much as we can, in each township, and go from there. By the time you know it, you’ll be caught up with it.”
For more major, recurring problem areas like Robinson Lake Road, the Road Comsion needs to make the needed changes.
“I’d just like to see two or three [temporary workers] to relieve our guys, so they can go on the graders.”
The temporary workers will be “at-will” employees that can be laid off in case the Road Commission gets in a budget squeeze. Applications were due in late February, and the temporary workers may be hired at the Road Commission’s March meeting.
• On a related matter, the commission discussed plans for 2014 road projects with county officials. But Tomasoski cautioned that “until the snow is gone and the frost is gone, you don’t know exactly which one you’re going to do—or need to do” because of drainage problems that aren’t evident until the snow and frost are gone.
Project bids should be received in time for awarding at the April meeting. Hopes are that work can start by about June 1.
• Tomasoski discussed the task force meeting held a week earlier and a discussion about the proposed Alpha bypass. He said the commission has to decide whether to go ahead with the bypass or to free the funds that have been set aside for it.
“That could allow us to possibly speed up” the County Road 424 project.
Germic said the Road Commission can put it on the agenda for a future meeting. “If the funds are to move traffic through Iron County,” he said, “what better way than to have a bypass? That was the whole point in the first place.”
The Road Commission earlier decided to hold off any action on a bypass after hearing Alpha residents object to it at a hearing. “I would like some input from the Alpha people again,” said Germic, “and some of the other township supervisors to hear what they feel would best serve Iron County.”
“Until all the rest of our roads are fixed,” Schmidt said, “I am not in favor of a bypass.”