Wright County roads might be restricted longer this spring

By John Holler

Contributing Writer

One of the sure signs of spring is that the Wright County Board of Commissioners approves its annual list of spring road weight restrictions. For the winter of 2013-14, with a record-setting number of days in which the temperature fell below zero, spring can’t come soon enough. Wright County Highway Engineer Virgil Hawkins is in the process of preparing the 2014 list of spring weight restrictions on county roads and this year may bring something very new for trucks that use county roads.

“I’ve been with the highway department for 19 years and I can’t remember anything even resembling what we’ve had this year in terms of cold temperatures,” Hawkins said. “Coming off the ‘un-winter’ we had in 2011-12, this has been quite a switch for us.”

The “un-winter” of which he speaks was reflected in the primary reason why the county places road restrictions. The most damage that is done to roadways is the freezing and thawing of roads. It is at this point when roads are the most fragile and susceptible to damage. As a result, the county places restrictions on county roads to preserve their life. In the winter of 2011-12, the frost in the ground only went 30 inches deep, which was far less from the 45-50 inches that are typical for an average winter season. This year, the frost is a whopping 60 inches deep – one of the farthest depths ever recorded.

“In 2012, we instituted the spring weight restrictions in February because the weather was warm throughout much of the winter and the spring thaw came early,” Hawkins said. “Usually we put the weight restrictions on in early-March, but, with this season, who knows? It could start late and remain in place later than normal because this winter has been unprecedented for cold.”

The damage done to the roads typically isn’t due to rapidly rising temperatures, but spring rain that causes the biggest issues.

“What weakens roads the most is when it gets saturated in the road bed,” Hawkins said. “Water is not a friend of a roadway. The frost bubbling up is a problem, but rain at the same time weakens a road considerably and that’s when you get damage.”

While the road restrictions won’t apply to most vehicles, it will result in large trucks having to take alternate routes. The bad news is that, given the brutality of the winter season of 2013-14, the restrictions will likely stay in place until May. The good news is that we’re nearing the end of the tunnel and the awful winter weather will finally give way to spring.

In items on the Feb. 11 agenda, the board:

APPROVED continuing the Rental Rehabilitation Deferred Loan Program. A pilot project developed in 2011 by the Central Minnesota Housing Partnership, allows owners of low-income rental properties to apply for up to $300,000 in interest-free loans to take care of “big ticket” items like the replacement of roofing, windows, insulation, boilers, etc. The purpose of the program is to preserve aging housing properties in Greater Minnesota.

RECEIVED an update on the Bertram Chain of Lakes Park committee. The park received a state grant from the Legacy Fund for $1.2 million, which represented more than a third of the money available in the most recent grant cycle. In addition, the board was informed that the committee is drafting a joint powers agreement with the City of Monticello to spell out the responsibilities of both the county and the city in terms of the management of the park.

HELD a public hearing to increase the registration fee for dangerous dogs from $200 a year to $250 a year. Nobody from the public came to speak for or against the resolution, so it passed without comment.

AUTHORIZED board attendance at a meeting of a state-sponsored transportation meeting scheduled for 10 a.m. Tuesday, Feb. 18 at the Buffalo Community Center. While the commissioners intend to all attend the meeting, which will discuss the plans to end the River Rider program in the county, whenever more than two commissioners are attending an event, it is required to announce the meeting and authorize attendance.

APPROVED increasing the change fund in the auditor/treasurer’s office from $600 to $900 and at Law Enforcement Center from $200 to $500. The purpose of the funds is to make change for those who come to the courthouse or the jail to apply for permits. They often pay in large bills and quickly deplete the change on hand.

RATIFIED the selection of Leonard Wozniak to the county’s extension committee. He was nominated by Commissioner Charlie Borrell and his three-year term will run through Dec. 31, 2016.

HEARD from Pelican Lake Bill Weldele about complaints he has about snowmobilers that cross his property to get to the lake. Weldele suggested that the county confiscate snowmobiles or impose significant fines. The problem with the complaint, Lt. Todd Hoffman of the sheriff’s department said, is that by the time complaint calls are made and a deputy is dispatched to the area, the snowmobilers are long since gone. He also said state laws don’t call for vehicle confiscation for trespassing.

APPROVED changing the name of the labor/management loss control committee to the safety committee. Per state statutes approved in 2013, counties must have a safety committee. The labor/management loss control committee served essentially the same function, so it was decided to change the name rather than add a separate committee.