County roads ordinance drives discussion

By Jason Ferguson

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No action was taken on the first reading of a Custer County resolution that declares three county roads as no-maintenance highways within Custer County.

The resolution was brought forward for the first time at the Nov. 28 meeting of the Custer County Commission. Although it was thoroughly discussed, no vote was taken and the county plans to present a second reading of the ordinance at its next meeting, Dec. 12. The ordinance can be altered up until the point it is formally approved by the commission.

The ordinance declares three roads in Custer County as being no-maintenance. They are:

• CS 24, or French Fork Cutoff for a distance of 3.62 miles from its intersection with CS 18 to its intersection with CS 27.

• The portion of Battle Creek Road extending northwest from the intersection of Battle Creek Road and Bender Road, excluding creek crossings.

• The platted county road extending 1.9 miles from road 656 to the Fall River County line.

East county resident Earl Brunson said he uses French Fork Cutoff to travel between two ranches he owns and questioned the wisdom of having a no- maintenance road that people travel. County attorney Tracy Kelley said it is up to the county to designate which roads are no-maintenance, adding that the standard for those roads, as well as minimal-maintenance roads, is also at the discretion of the commission. 

Other than removing man-made obstructions, the county does not have to do maintenance on the designated no-maintenance roads as long as they are properly posted as such.

“No matter how hazardous it is?” Brunson asked. “It’s just plain dangerous to drive on.”

Travis Hartshorn, another east county resident, asked what the criteria is for determining which roads are minimum- and no-maintenance, and previously in the meeting asked which roads the county is obligated to take care of, questioning the difference between primary and secondary roads, who makes that determination and why there is no map that shows which roads are which.

County highway superintendent Gary Woodford said he learned the State Department of Transportation does not have to approve county secondary roads, minimal- or no-maintenance roads, but rather, only primary roads. The state visits the county annually to determine if its primary road list needs to be updated.

State law says each county highway superintendent is responsible to maintain its county roads in a safe manner. Primary roads are the most well-used roads that see the most traffic and, therefore, receive the most maintenance. If Mother Nature allows, primary roads will be maintained six to eight times a year.

Secondary roads are used a little less than primary roads, but are still important roads in terms of getting access to U.S. Forest Service land and are used as farm-to-market roads. Those are maintained four times a year, again depending on Mother Nature’s cooperation. Roads that are too wet or too dry cannot be maintained properly.

At a previous commission meeting, Hartshorn asked the county to spruce up a half mile of a nameless road in the eastern part of the county (the 1.9 miles of road included in the resolution to be designated as no- maintenance if the resolution passes as is) he said was also used for farming, utility work and by Ango-stura Irrigation District. At that time, he was told that road is not included in the roads recognized by the county for maintenance.

Hartshorn said the road is an existing platted road that appears on county maps and connects Riverside and Williams Place roads, which is on the Custer/Fall River county line. Research by county officials later showed that Hartshorn’s claim the road was in fact platted and on a previous list of county roads is accurate.

Hartshorn said he understands the busiest roads in the county are first in line for maintenance and receive the most maintenance, but wondered why there is no set parameter as to who “picks and chooses” road designations.

“I just want it fair across the county,” he said.

Kelley said the commission decides those designations (other than the state-selected primary roads), with commission chairman Phil Lampert saying the commission relies on the research and expertise of Woodford to help make those decisions, much of which is determined by how much a road is used.

Hartshorn said he would like to know how long a blade is down on a road when maintenance is done, and said he doesn’t believe blading should be done in a scattershot approach that, for example, sees a blade down for two miles on a 14-mile stretch of road.

Another man in the audience suggested the county post the county highway map the same as it does the agenda prior to a commission meeting.

After the commission had moved on from the discussion, it was revisited by commissioner Mark Hartman, who bemoaned the fact that the commission had not had a satisfactory work session to answer all of the questions residents have regarding the road designations.

“We haven’t taken the time,” he said.

Brunson said he wasn’t made aware of the resolution prior to the meeting other than through “hearsay,” but was told it was posted as part of the agenda Monday. When told the agenda was posted both in the courthouse and online, Brunson said to not talk to him about online postings, as he is computer illiterate.

“If I can’t do business, just tell me,” he said.

A brief discussion was also held on upcoming gravel bids, as Kelley said she would like the commission get in front of some of the controversy that sometimes happens when the county goes out for bids, including where the gravel needs to be placed and the required specifications of the gravel.

Gravel specifications are set by the state, Woodford said, and the county cannot and will not accept bids for gravel that does not meet the predetermined specifications. He has no discretion to bend from those specifications, he said. Those specifications and parameters of the bids will be discussed at a future meeting.

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