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Future Of Drainage Work Discussed

By Staff | Mar 1, 2011

The Palo Alto County Board of Supervisors and the County Engineer discussed the future of having drainage work done by Palo Alto County Secondary Road employees during a meeting Tuesday, Feb. 22.

Board Chair Keith Wirtz opened the discussion on the topic. “I’ve been wondering if there isn’t another way to do this drainage work we do now, in order to give our guys more time for other duties. Could we just do drainage work in the road right of ways and if it goes onto private land, turn it over to private contractors like Emmet County does?”

“I’d like to see us turn those repairs over to private contractors,” agreed Supervisor Jerry Hofstad. “Could we do something with a contract like we do with our long-stick excavator contract?”

“The county probably could save some money by doing that,” agreed Engineer Joel Fantz. “It might be better for the drainage districts, in terms of administrative costs and such, if a repair request went to the supervisors as trustees of the DD, and then to a contractor to do the work.”

Fantz continued, “But, on the negative side, doing so could open the county up to some minor abuses say the problem isn’t actually on a county tile, but on a private tile, and the county gets billed for it. That’s a potential abuse.”

“Why couldn’t we do it like we do the long-stick,” Hofstad asked. “We just have a couple of guys we trust and have them do the work?”

Fantz noted that he had called neighboring counties to get information on how they handled such repairs, and found most counties do hire private contractors for the work, but someone from the county oversees the work.

“Could our foremen do that?” Wirtz asked. “They could go out and check on problems when they are called in and figure out what and where the problem is.”

“We would need to charge the drainage districts for their time if they did that,” Fantz replied. “It wouldn’t be fair to expect road use tax money to pay for drainage work.”

“There are a lot of people out there who have invested money in machinery and equipment and pay taxes,” Hofstad said. “They should have a chance at something like this.”

“I agree with that,” said Supervisor Ron Graettinger.

“Do we really need to have a county person supervise this work?” Wirtz asked. “Couldn’t we just get a contractor we could trust and let them do the work?”

“Why don’t we have Steve Westfall do the supervising,” suggested Graettinger. “We hired him to do the drainage work and he could still do other work in Secondary Roads. He’s used to doing this work, so let him oversee it. He’s been around the county and he knows the tile systems.”

“There are some questions you need to answer,” Fantz told the board. “Like, are there contractors available, and we know there are. Are they willing to accept drainage warrants at three percent for payment? You have to think about things like that, too.”

“Could we use Steve like that? Graettinger asked.

“Yes, but understand, there are growing pains in any new program you start,” Fantz answered.

“I think we ought to try it for a year and see how it goes,” Graettinger suggested.

“We could save a lot of time and labor,” agreed Wirtz. “Sometimes three or four guys end up working on one of those repairs and that’s three or four graders that aren’t out grading.”

“I think there’s a workable area here,” Fantz said. “The costs of repairs may go down, but some administrative costs may go up, but I applaud your thinking outside the box on this. You’re looking at a different way of doing this and that’s a good thing.”

In other road matters, Fantz reported that a public meeting on the proposed south bypass to serve POET has been planned for Thursday, March 3, at 6:30 p.m. at the Election Center in Emmetsburg. The south bypass will involve regarding and ultimately paving of 390 Street and 470 Avenue, southeast of Emmetsburg.

Fantz also reported that right-of-way acquisition work is continuing for the north bypass project northeast of Emmetsburg, but that the focus of the engineering staff may have to shift to the B63 project between West Bend and Mallard, as deadlines for preliminary plans are coming up soon, as well as the federal funding available for the project. “With some $900,000 in federal money available to us for that project, we’re not going to jeopardize that by missing a deadline,” Fantz explained.