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Wet weather during past month has made Hubbard County road work difficult

Maintenance operator Ed Branham grades a section of Hubbard County Road 2 north of Nevis that has required constant upkeep this fall in the wet conditions. The county, after four sunny days, is finally gaining the upper hand on its sloppy roads, caused by record precipitation in October. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)1 / 2
Herb McCormick2 / 2

Rain, snow, go away

Come again some other day

- Or not.

That could be Herb McCormick's mantra these days. He only wishes his probationary period as Hubbard County's new road maintenance superintendent was trial by fire. He might welcome it.

But four sunny days have buoyed his spirits. His county maintenance crews are finally getting the upper hand on 220 miles of wet, sloppy gravel roads throughout the county.

"We've probably bladed more in the last month than we have most of the summer, mainly because the last month and a half has been just horrible," he said.

He's hearing from residents, county commissioners and every John Q. Public who thinks he can run a road department better than McCormick. The superintendent politely responds to each e-mail, every angry call. It goes with the turf.

Unusual moisture this fall has left roads in constant need of upkeep. Road crews go out daily, sometimes every day to the same trouble spots to keep the potholes and slush under control.

County Road 2 north of Nevis is one such spot. Wednesday afternoon maintenance operator Ed Branham was blading the roadway, just as he did the previous day when he had to stop.

It was raining and snowing. Again.

And he wasn't able to get an early start Wednesday due to morning frost.

Mother Nature "just hasn't given us a chance," McCormick said. "We bladed every window of opportunity we had. We'll blade a road, then it'll turn around and rain for three days. You've actually gone backwards," he said of the frustrating situation he faces.

He's built a depth chart of road conditions.

"You kind of have to go, 'Well this road is the worst,' and kind of go from there," he said.

County 2 and County Road 23 near Akeley need chronic facelifts.

Other areas in the northeast part of the county that have seen truck traffic due to logging and construction of the Paul Bunyan Trail extension are also in constant need of repair.

"The county roads are in horrendous shape," said commissioner Cal Johannsen at Wednesday's county board meeting. "I think it's all the chloride we're using. They grade the roads and roll all this muck."

Commissioners say they've never had so many complaints.

"The chloride is designed to solve dry weather problems in the summer," said board chair Lyle Robinson. "You have a wet fall, it's a mess."

McCormick agrees.

"The roads that don't have chloride on them are in much better shape than the ones that have chloride," he acknowledged. "You can hands-down see that.

"It's actually a good tool for dust control and holds the fines (material) together on a gravel road," McCormick said. "But what happens when you get an unusual fall like this, where you get excessive amounts of rain just steady, every week we're getting an inch of rain and snow, it keeps the road wetter longer. They stay an oatmeal type consistency, wet, slimy and the road can't set up. And that's what we're seeing right now."

The salted roads retain moisture and don't freeze like the roads that haven't been treated, McCormick says.

But even though it is causing headaches now, the county saves during the summer. The chloride stabilizes gravel roads and makes them nearly maintenance-free.

"We gravel every year on our county roads; we use either Class 5 or Class 1," said assistant county engineer Jed Nordin. Crews have even spread gravel this fall in the roughest spots.

In 2008 the county spent $285,000 on Class 1; in 2009 expenditures rose to $396,000. But that included township roads, too.

McCormick said township road crews are struggling with the wet conditions, too.

One material the county likely won't use is crushed concrete. Currently a mountain of the stuff is sitting below the South Transfer Station. The county board voted Wednesday to offer it to the public at $9 per cubic yard.

"People have been asking us about it for weeks," said solid waste attendant Janelle Pedersen. The mountain, estimated at 46,000 cubic yards, is ground up road construction waste.

It's been popular for use in driveways, but the county has no experience with it in high traffic areas, so is passing on this backyard bargain.

"I've been on previous projects where it was used as a base material and it's very good but as far as a surface, we'd have to experiment or talk to somebody that has used it," Nordin said.

"You've gotta remember it hardens like concrete," McCormick said. "If you have potholes in (a road) now you've got something you can't blade so the concrete could actually become worse.

"It probably works good in people's driveways where there's not a lot of traffic but if you get that excessive pounding, hard acceleration and braking at intersections, in high impact areas with truck traffic" it may not hold up, he said.

Meanwhile, McCormick will forego deer hunting this weekend to make sure the county's roads are shipshape.

There's always time next week after work to see if there are deer around. He and his crew have to keep grading while the sun shines.