Franklin County officials are aware of the road problems throughout the county.
Weather event after weather event, since the first of the year, continues to plague the amount of completed work.
David Lee, public works director, said after each snow or flooding event, the work just completed was ruined and needed to be done all over again.
“It shines a light on it when we have multiple flooding [events],” Lee said during Monday’s county commissioner study session. “Those problems did not occur over night. They are not going to be fixed over night.”
This past week’s storm — which dumped between eight and 11 inches of rain — just compounded the situation the county public work department has faced this year.
“Much of what we had rebuilt from Centropolis through Ottawa down to the county line has been destroyed,” Lee said. “The north-central part of the county was hit the hardest. There is not a lot of ditches we have been able to process to make these improvements. The rain we got this past week has set us back weeks or months. Without proper drainage, we are going to be fighting issues. Very few of our roads are designed to handle that much rain in that short of time.”
Lee reiterated the public works department needs dry weather and time to make road repairs.
“We are trying to make improvements,” Lee said. “It is a slow process. It is expensive. It will take quite a long time to recover from all this.”
Lee said the county is responsible for maintaining more than 1,100 miles of road.
“There are less than 30 people that operate the road graders, backhoes, equipment operators, and mowers,” Lee said. “We have two backhoes in the county.”
Derek Brown, county administrator/counselor, said public works is sufficiently staffed for normal operations.
“We think we have adequate number of staff to handle our normal needs,” he said. “This is not a normal situation. We don’t staff to a level that could handle every situation. We have our hands full right now. David is doing an excellent job of keeping morale high. Imagine the work you do keeps getting erased. You don’t feel like anything [is getting accomplished] but going backwards. That is hard for our grader operators and other heavy equipment operators. They continue to go out there every day. We do what we can with the resources that we have.”
Lee said the most-traveled roads and those that are not passable receive the most attention.
“Most of the folks that work in the road and bridge department, live out in the county,” Lee said. “They experience these things just like regular citizens do. It is depressing for them. They care deeply about [the roads]. They don’t want to see anybody suffer because of poor road conditions. Under normal circumstances, traffic will cause a road to change.”
Lee said the road-grader operators are hard-working individuals in a no-win situation.
“We do have good blade operators,” Lee said. “We are providing education and training courses. We have blade operator meetings a couple times a month. We talk about best practices. We have nine blade operators. They work 80-100 miles each. Our focus has been to make sure there is one lane of road that people can travel down.”
Lee said right after each weather event, the blade operators go where they are needed the most.
“They are literally jumping around from spot-to-spot to take care of [the hot spots],” Lee said. “All of them have had very, very little time [for routine maintenance]. We are still trying to rebuild [the roads]. In a normal year, we rebuild anywhere between 15 to 20 miles.”
Lee encourages the public to contact his office to let him know of any road problems.
“I would encourage folks to let me know what is happening out there,” Lee said. “We are not always aware what folks are experiencing.”
Alan Radcliffe, Franklin County Emergency Management director, gave an overview to the commissioners of how the flood emergency was handled. He said most of the county was hit by the torrential storm that started in the northern part went through Centropolis and on to the southern portion of the county.
“We had a lot of flooding that took place on the east side,” Radcliffe said. “Every road between the north county line and John Brown Road had water over it in places. There were places when I came in Thursday morning that I had not seen water on the road before.”
Radcliffe added there were seven water rescues and the county requested help from Lawrence Fire Department and Anderson County to help with those. He said Ottawa Fire Department and Pottawatomie Township are the two departments that handle water rescues.
Radcliffe said the flooding that occurred in Ottawa, especially in the K-68 area, was because of flash flooding.
“There were eight to 10 homes affected and 15 businesses,” he said. “We requested additional pumps.”
Radcliffe explained why the area was still blocked off, and the flood gates remained closed Monday morning because there were problems with the traffic lights at the Main and Keokuk intersection.
The City of Ottawa did open up the flood gates over the Main Street bridge Monday afternoon.
Haeffele added city officials opened K-68 to east and westbound traffic before the gates were opened.