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300 pack lake hall to protest county roads

News editor

County commissioners were among the targets at which county residents took aim during a public meeting Monday about roads. Some called for their ouster in the next election.

It was standing room only for about 300 people who packed Marion County Park and Lake Hall to express dissatisfaction over road conditions to those who maintain them.

More than two dozen stepped forward to decry poor conditions they said were caused by negligent grader operators, poor techniques, and bad management.

Josh Weiser of Goessel challenged assertions that road problems were caused by large equipment or lack of money.

“Look at the amount of money we spent on roads between 2013 and 2014, and where the heck is all that going?’” he said. “The next time you go to the voting booth, that’s your voice.

“Sure the traffic has changed, tractors have gotten bigger. Did we not plan for that? Did we not plan for the increase in material costs over those years? Have we not known for years this was going to change? From this point on, vote these guys out.”

Jan Buckland of Lost Springs agreed.

“We know the roads are bad,” she said. “Why they’re bad, whatever the excuse is — and that’s what it is, an excuse —these are the people that are responsible and accountable for it. If a new election comes around for new … commissioners, think about who you’re putting your check mark next to.”

Kevin Suderman, a former Hillsboro city council member, suggested that the complexity of county government was more than part-time commissioners could handle.

“Sometimes that requires stepping back and admitting we need help, Suderman said. “I would seriously support hiring a county administrator. If you utilize a county manager, it the long term it would save you money.”

Jim Srajer of Tampa said he had come to the meeting because he couldn’t find a road Monday that was in good enough condition to haul his hay. He described what his college freshman son said earlier in the day about dangerous road conditions.

“He goes, “You know what, if somebody drove into our county and didn’t know this county, they’d get killed,’” Srajer said.

Jonas Frantz of Tampa shared his concern.

“What about Roxbury Rd.?” he said. “We’ve got all this asphalt in the ditch. What’s going to happen when somebody runs into that off the road when the road’s slick? Somebody’s going to get sued.”

Frantz also complained about grader operators blocking water drainage by pushing dirt into ditches.

“Up there at Tampa, they put dirt in the ditch, and I’ve got to put up a sign, ‘Tampa Fishing Lake,’” he said. “They did get a culvert put in.”

Max Schmidt of Goessel was among many speakers who claimed some section road graders hadn’t been working the roads as much as they used to.

“When I was a little kid, I remember seeing the road grader on the road every week,” he said. “Where are they now? You never see them.”

Schmidt showed a catalogue of used road equipment and suggested the county buy more and cheaper used graders, then use the money saved to hire operators for them.

Services other than farming also have been affected by bad roads.

Amy Plett said her children’s school bus route was disrupted by poor conditions.

“Our access road is Sunflower Rd.,” she said. “The last week of school the road was so bad that Centre school called me and said, ‘We’re sorry, you’re going to have to meet us on the Durham-Lincolnville Rd., because we’re not going to try to go up that road. We can’t get down it.”

Chase Gann has oil wells in Lehigh Township. He said he lost money when a truck couldn’t get down a road to pick up a load.

Flint Hills Rural Electric Cooperative board vice president Duane Keiser cited another concern.

“A lot of our lines are down rural roads, and most are not rocked, but we have access to them. When the electricity is out we need to get down there, but it’s not safe,” he said. “If we allowed our lines to deteriorate like the roads have deteriorated, you’d have to buy your own bucket truck and digger to maintain your own lines.”

When commission chairman Dan Holub explained that the rock had been put there by the state for a detour route, an audience member replied quickly:

“Can we put a detour by my house?”

Road Expert

Kansas Counties Association road engineer Norm Bowers was at the meeting at the invitation of Holub. Bowers was Marion County engineer from 1973 to 1976.

Bowers said he turned off US-77 on the way to the meeting to drive on some gravel roads.

“There’s not a mile out there that there’s enough rock on the roads,” he said. “The root cause is not enough rock.”

Numerous people talked about not getting enough road maintenance in return for property taxes they pay, but Bowers said other property owners in the county pay a larger share.

“On a typical mile of road, the ag land only pays 16 percent of the maintenance,” he said.

Problems with roads now are the same ones Bowers faced when he was county engineer, he said. County roads in central Kansas counties along the Flint Hills are the “poorest” in the state, he said.

Commissioners respond

Commissioner Randy Dallke said an immediate change should be to increase grader use.

“The graders on the ground is what we’ve got to do,” he said. “That’s the bottom line.”

Dallke also said a decision two years ago to “slow down on the back roads” had contributed to current problems.

Holub said it had been wrong using grader operators to do tree trimming and culvert installations.

“We’re not doing that anymore,” he said. “Those guys in the sections are staying in the sections.”

When offered the opportunity to comment, Commissioner Lori Lalouette declined.

Reactions

After the meeting, Schmidt said he didn’t believe much would change.

“I think this meeting is just to appease the people that are aggravated with the bad roads,” he said. “The county commission is going to continue not doing what they’re not doing.”

Suderman said he would have to “wait and see” whether commissioners took any substantial actions.

“If the roads don’t get gravel, we’ll know real quick,” he said.

Lyle Leppke, who didn’t speak during the meeting, said it was a good opportunity for “everybody to come vent.” When asked if he thought the meeting accomplished anything, his reply was brief.

“No,” he said.

Commissioners plan to devote the entirety of their next regular meeting Monday to the topic of roads. An additional public forum is not planned as part of that meeting.

Last modified July 26, 2015

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