Despite cold shoulder, commissioners approve pricey highway purchase

Wadena County commissioners Rodney Bounds and Ralph Miller reluctantly made and seconded a motion to purchase a $120,000 shouldering machine for the highway department.

Wadena County commissioners Rodney Bounds and Ralph Miller reluctantly made and seconded a motion to purchase a $120,000 shouldering machine for the highway department.

"I know I'm going to catch slack for making the motion, but I don't know of any other way that we can get around this," Bounds said.

He's looked at the pros and cons, he said, but the highway department does need the machine.

"I could easily tell you [that] you don't need another pickup, you can make it run enough years," he said.

Miller seconded the motion and said he wanted to reiterate Bounds' statements.


Commissioners approved the motion after tabling the decision at the March 3 county board meeting.

County Highway Engineer Joel Ulring presented five options for replacing the county's worn-out model. It has no trade-in value and needs to be replaced, he said. He recommended buying the Midland SPR-6 self-propelled shouldering machine because it is a self-contained unit that only requires one person to operate. The $120,000 cost includes tax and delivery and is figured into the highway department budget this year.

Other options Ulring explored included purchasing a $70,000 machine that would require two people to operate, a purchase plan for the Midland SPR-6 that would have totaled $137,000 after five payments, renting a machine that could not be negotiated without the contractor sending an operator, and leasing a machine with several other counties, which the equipment supplier was not willing to do.

Commissioner Lane Waldahl suggested hiring a local contractor to do the work, but Ulring said there is no local contractor with this type of machine.

The county does approximately four weeks of shoulder graveling each summer, Ulring said. The task involves the whole crew.

"This is one of our more important activities," Ulring said.

There are nearly 250 miles of paved roads in the county, which means there are almost 500 miles of gravel shoulder to maintain, Ulring indicated in an e-mail. If the shoulder is not maintained and the drop off exceeds 1/2 to 1 inch, accidents can result when drivers overreact while attempting to bring their tires back on the road.

It's a safety and liability issue for the county, he said.


"If there's a condition out there that I'm aware of as the county engineer I'm obligated to take care of that," Ulring said. "If you don't give me the tools to take care of that then that liability falls back on you as the county, as the board."

The time and money spent are basically reimbursed through state aid, he said. That applies to the machine, too, even though it's purchased with local dollars.

"It's like it's rented to the state aid system," he said. "The money is recouped."

Bounds asked why the state doesn't take care of its own shoulders if it's such a big safety issue. State Highway 227 is worse than any county road, he said.

Ulring said the Minnesota Department of Transportation's resources are also stretched. To the state a road like Highway 227 is similar to the low volume roads the county is reverting to townships, he said. Highway 227 may even be reverted to the county in 2013.

"So they don't spend the money on 227, they spend the money on Highway 10, Interstate 94, Highway 71," he said.

It's a matter of weighing risks, Ulring said. The county's highest volume roads are the paved state aid roads.

"Well, I take it Joel a wheelbarrow, a shovel and a rake will not do it," Miller said jokingly.


Ulring responded, "It would do the job, but it certainly wouldn't be efficient."

The previous board hired Ulring to make these kinds of decisions, Miller said. And if commissioners don't have faith in him then it's time for him to go, but that's not the case.

"You've presented something that in my opinion we are bound to address," Miller said. "We'll battle other days."

Bounds added, "Oh yes."

Chairman Dave Schermerhorn asked if the fight was over for today.

"At least on this issue," Miller said.

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