The Ottumwa Courier

Local News

March 1, 2013

Road graders struggle to keep up with clearing rural roads

Constant snowfall causes sixth snow day of school year

OTTUMWA — The decision to call the third snow day in a row — and the sixth this school year — was based on the nearly impassable rural roads.

“We have a lot of county roads, and I understand the task the county workers have, therefore sometimes maintaining some of those roads is out of their control,” said Ottumwa Superintendent Davis Eidahl.

At times during snowfall the school district will run buses on “hard surface only” routes.

“That’s what we were hoping to get by with [Thursday] morning,” Eidahl said. “But those hard-surface roads in the county had frozen over overnight, and there was not enough time to get the buses out this morning and running.”

Dan Terrell, superintendent of Wapello County Secondary Roads Department, said the wind plays a major role in making his job even harder.

“Out in the rural area where the wind gets to them more and with it snowing all night last [Wednesday] night, it blowed them back shut,” Terrell said. “There was no way to keep up with it.”

The roads began to open during the day Wednesday, he said, but snow started blowing across and created an icy covering, as well as 2- to 3-foot snow drifts in some areas.

When it snows nearly constantly for days on end, he said his crews are out going over the roads non-stop.

As of Thursday afternoon, the Ottumwa area had received 7-10 inches of snow since Tuesday, according to the National Weather Service in Des Moines.

The secondary roads department can’t use its normal sand/salt mixture on gravel roads.

“The salt will melt the ice on the paved road, but that brine it produces doesn’t soak into the paved road. It dries on top of it,” Terrell said. “If that salt gets into that gravel road, it will turn to mud. It makes conditions worse and muddier than they already are.”

His department has 10 road graders that run over all gravel roads in the county, as well as nine trucks on paved county roads.

“Those nine run continuously,” Terrell said. “Then there’s the loader operators working in the shop loading sand and salt. But it’s not enough. There’s more jobs than there are people.”

In total, his department has to clear 700 to 800 miles of county roads.

“When it’s snowing at the rate it’s been snowing the past couple days, it’s too many miles,” he said. “Each operator in the county that runs one of the road graders has got 70-90 miles in one territory.”

This time, since the roads were already frozen and slick before the snow started falling, it has slowed down the process of clearing them.

“It makes it so the road grader can’t run as fast because the blade wants to cut clear down into the dirt on the road,” he said. “You have to go a lot slower to get the snow off.

“In conditions like this when it keeps continually snowing, you’re constantly playing catch-up and going over and over again. The roads will be bladed three to four times before we catch up ... Mother Nature’s got to run its course, and we’re doing the best we can.”

Eidahl said he hears the community’s concerns of having too many snow days, though he said school will start at the regular time today with buses running on hard surfaces only.

Evans Middle School science teacher Tanner Neuberger said snow days are a great chance for teachers to get in extra planning or catch up on work, as well as to simply relax.

But, he said, it makes summer shorter, and especially since he coaches baseball in the summer, it takes away from the time he can devote to his players.

Ottumwa High School teacher Amy Drake said tacking days on to the end of the school year isn’t necessarily the best idea when it pushes the school year into mid-June.

“Students are better behaved when the weather is bad, so not being at school now will just lead to anxious kids in June,” Drake said.

But the snow days are understandable, Neuberger said, since Ottumwa does bus in students from rural areas of the county.

“I was talking with some friends in the school districts in Des Moines who are not having snow days — but they don’t have a lot of rural students,” he said. “That’s where the big problem comes from is getting out to those rural roads in the morning. Our biggest concern is always kids’ safety, but it’s hard to control when the roads are almost pure ice.”

Neuberger agrees with Eidahl’s decision to declare three snow days this week alone.

“He’s thinking about each and every student and their safety,” he said. “He wants them to arrive to school on time, safe and alive.”

Instead of adding school days onto the end of the school year, Neuberger said he would prefer keeping students in school a little longer right now.

“While we have the students now, we can add an extra half hour to the end of the day for a week or two, and I think the students will be fine with that so they have a longer summer,” he said.

1
Text Only
Local News
  • 0730 OTT Better Buildings -T -M Wildwood could be your home OTTUMWA — There was always one child per class who just adored school. If they went to Wildwood, they may soon be able to move in permanently. The Ottumwa board of education met Monday, where staff told them where the district stood as far as "facili

    July 29, 2014 1 Photo

  • A changing roster -- for school board OTTUMWA — If the last time you saw your board of education was before Christmastime, the current school board might surprise you. Two members retired from the board: longtime educator Ron Oswalt stepped down, as did board president Carol Mitchell. Bo

    July 29, 2014

  • Lottery sales top $3 million mark

    OTTUMWA — Mother Nature may have thrown Iowans a brutal winter, but it didn’t stop them from venturing out to buy lottery tickets. On Tuesday, the Iowa Lottery confirmed that it had topped the $3 million mark in sales for the third consecutive year.

    July 29, 2014

  • halo-5-guardians-concept_wallpaper-1920x1080-53cf9b0098ea45ada37dc0f66bc174f5.jpg The Art of Kong

    OTTUMWA — The Mona Lisa. Whistler's Mother. Donkey Kong? Don't be so surprised, said Walter Day, that video games and the surrounding memorabilia are being considered art. The creativity and artistic vision required to create a poster, said the found

    July 28, 2014 1 Photo

  • Slideshow: Truck overturns on roundabout

    July 28, 2014

  • 0729 OTT Picture veteran -T -M Veteran finally receives his medals OTTUMWA — A World War II injury may have saved the life of a U.S. Coast Guardsman from Iowa, but he lost friends and a box of military awards. Francis Hardy Harbour was born on Dec.16, 1919, in Drakesville. He joined the Coast Guard in 1941 as a mach

    July 28, 2014 1 Photo

  • Seasonal forecast Cool summer leading to cool fall? OTTUMWA — By late July, the average daytime high temperature starts to drop. What is normally the hottest part of the year is over. Averages are still in the mid-80s, and it certainly wouldn’t be out of the ordinary to see days in even the upper 90s.

    July 28, 2014 1 Photo

  • IHCC buildings.jpg Grant helps Hills keep students on track

    OTTUMWA — Thanks to a grant designed to improve graduation rates, Indian Hills Community College now has even more tools in its campuswide effort to help students with needs and give them the resources they need to stay in class. Indian Hills is one

    July 28, 2014 1 Photo

  • 0728 OTT ribs in eldon BBQ dinner with a hundred friends

    ELDON --- This year's Eldon Rib Cook-off was won by three BBQ chefs --- and about 150 hungry visitors. "I was down here last year, too," said Dwayne Yates from Floris, who was biting into his third smoked rib. "I never had a bad one yet." That's what

    July 27, 2014 1 Photo

  • Mediacom: Rural cable consumers and companies mistreated OTTUMWA --- You may want to add just a racing channel, a court channel or a nature channel to your cable line up. Unfortunately, you'll probably have to buy a "bundle," which, ironically, is what it will cost you here in Wapello County. That's accord

    July 26, 2014

Photo reprints


Obituaries

Facebook