County engineer: More salt, storage shed needed to deal with winter storms

Friday, January 13, 2023
(Sentinel Photo by Tom Lawrence) Plymouth County Engineer Tom Rohe discusses road issues with the Board of Supervisors during their Tuesday, Jan. 10, meeting.

LE MARS — What is the best way to keep Plymouth County’s roads clear of ice and snow?

That’s an issue under review by county engineer Thomas Rohe. The recent ice storms depleted the county’s supply of a chemical used to keep ice off paved roads, Rohe said.

By Tuesday, Jan. 3, there was none left, he said, so he had to ask the state for some salt to spread on the road. Rohe said he thinks the county needs to add more salt to its ice-fighting recipe, and to do so will require building a shed to store it.

The Plymouth County supervisors supported that idea during their Jan. 10 meeting. They said spending between $100,000 and $150,000 for a facility to store the salt seemed like a prudent investment.

The storm that hit in early January left many roads slick and driving was dangerous. Rohe said the storm hit hard and fast, and his department was challenged to meet the demand.

“We just didn’t get it done fast enough,” he said. “It was a very tough ice. We had wet snow with it.”

Rohe said the department spreads sand mixed with liquid calcium and adds calcium pellets as needed. This blend reduces the ice on roads, he said.

But by Jan. 3, the entire supply was gone. On Jan. 5, the county was able to obtain some salt from the state and that was spread on roads. Rohe said he would like to have a supply of salt on hand in case of such storms, possibly 1,000 tons or more.

That would require a storage facility, which would be placed in Le Mars. He said the building would cost at least $100,000, and Board of Supervisors Chairman Don Kass said that would be acceptable, with the money coming from local option sales tax revenue. The cost could go as high as $150,000, Kass said.

Supervisor Craig Anderson told Rohe to prepare a plan and the supervisors will find the money. There is a need to ensure the 365 miles of paved roads in the county are as safe as possible, the supervisors said.

There were a lot of calls from county residents upset about road conditions.

“Part of the job,” Anderson said.

One reason for more complaints is the fact that adverse weather doesn’t keep everyone at home anymore. Anderson said he recalls when winter storms kept people off the roads, but that is not the case anymore.

Kass, noting there are 29 hogs for every person in the county, said for some farmers, it’s a seven-day work week. They have trucks on the roads every day.

Rohe, who has worked for the county for more than four decades, said his department is using three times as much sand as it did 10 to 15 years ago. But there are still complaints that roads are not properly maintained.

Rohe also said he was planning to hire three technicians to fill open jobs in his department. The engineering department currently has four employees; at one point, it had eight.

He provided information on the three candidates to the supervisors, who supported his plan. The three include a graduate engineer; a candidate with experience in construction management and a college student who would work part-time at first and full time in the summer.

“I think all three would be good,” Rohe said.

He also is considering promoting a technician in his department to the job of assistant to the engineer.

“I think that’s a good idea, Tom,” Anderson said.

Rohe said he wants to fill these jobs while he can. Several counties are looking for technicians, he said, and Sioux County has been advertising for skilled workers for some time.

“Last couple years, we’ve been working short,” Rohe said.

He anticipates a busy year, with three paving projects, as well as culvert and bridge projects. These new employees will have work waiting for them.

“We could really be swamped even with additional people,” Rohe said.

Rohe said an application for Traffic Safety Improvement Funds is due by Aug. 15. These are state funds based on specific projects and the county does not apply for them every year.

The maximum request is $500,000, Rohe said, and he thinks the county will seek that much.

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