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Crow Wing County Board: Residents scorn snowplowing response

Brainerd Dispatch file photo.

Crow Wing County commissioners aired resident complaints about snow-covered roads following Friday's blizzard at Tuesday's board meeting.

Commissioner Paul Koering said he received multiple phone calls from residents upset with plowing efforts during and after Winter Storm Argos. The complaints originated primarily from residents along McKay Road, according to Koering and Franzen. Koering relayed those complaints to County Engineer Tim Bray and Jory Danielson, highway maintenance supervisor.

"There must have been a breakdown on McKay Road," Koering said. "Can you just give us an update on what happened and how we can try to make sure this doesn't happen again?"

McKay Road extends north from Riverside Drive and is in the First Assessment District, also known as Unorganized Territory. Because the area is not organized into a township or city, the county board acts as the township board for the area. In 2014, the board approved hiring a contractor to plow snow on township roads within Unorganized Territory, which boasts the third largest population in the county next to Brainerd and Baxter.

Commissioner Rosemary Franzen said concerns she heard from residents centered on whether the contractor was performing adequately. Holmvig Excavating has the maintenance contract, which lasts through 2017.

"Really what happened, I believe, is the storm," Bray said. "I don't believe necessarily that any part of it was missed. It's very conceivable that McKay was one of the first roads that was done. And the storm was such that you couldn't tell that anybody (a plow truck driver) was there."

Bray said he spoke with the contractor, who assured the county engineer his crew did plow McKay Road.

"I drove around several First Assessment District roads and many of them are similar," Bray said. "What happened, in my opinion, was we were thrown a curveball by the storm and we responded and our contractor responded as best we could. ... We will continue to improve some of these other township roads."

Danielson said he was anticipating pulling the plows from the roads Friday due to the intense conditions, although the drivers wanted to keep plowing to get the roads in the best shape possible.

Communication among drivers was constant Friday, he said.

"You could hear drivers on the radio saying, 'I just plowed the road and I can't even tell I was on it,'" Danielson said.

In an interview Monday, Danielson said the snowfall was so heavy and wet, it caused windshield wipers to snap off plows. Visibility was poor, and plows were stuck on multiple occasions. A drop in temperatures froze compacted snow, bonding it to the pavement.

"I can't remember one quite like this," Danielson said Tuesday. "We're using every resource we have, every driver we have, to try to make the roads and get them back in the shape they were in before the storm."

Danielson said he was unsure whether county crews would have made it to the McKay Road area before late Saturday evening. The township roads the contractor is tasked with plowing in Unorganized Territory tend to be narrower and shorter, making it more difficult for them to pick up speed.

"Snow clung to their plows and was pulling their plows into the ditch," Danielson said, forcing them to call trucks from other routes to pull them out.

Commissioner Paul Thiede said he drove to Brainerd Friday and was taken aback by the shape of the roads, including Highway 371 and county highways 11 and 16.

"It was a mess for everybody, and I agree, we probably couldn't have done any better than we did without 100 more trucks out there," Thiede said. "Those were the worst conditions I've seen. ... You guys did as good of a job I think as could have been done."

Bray said Holmvig Excavating has successfully plowed Unorganized Territory for the past two years.

"I would advise not to rush to judgment based on the results of this storm and the response to it," Bray said. "We wouldn't have been out there. It would have been our last priority to be in the First Assessment District, as we concentrate on our county system. ... Our contractor was there 24 or even 36 hours sooner than we could have ever been there."