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As first snow arrives, commissioners debate plowing policy

Philipsburg Mail of Philipsburg, Montana

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Liability and fairness to subdivisions across the county during the Granite County Commissioners' discussion last Tuesday on whether or not to continue plowing portions of roads on Denton's Track and Edwards Track at Georgetown Lake, as it had been done for 40 years.

The agenda item was discussion-only; no decision was made.

Granite County Commissioner Bart Bonney said that he drove all the roads in question and measured them with the county road supervisor — one of the biggest challenges was the width of the road compared to the increasingly larger plowing equipment that the county had upgraded to in the last four decades, he said.

"A lot of the routes out there are unimproved and twelve feet wide," Bonney said. "With the equipment that we have it is really tough to get in there anymore because we used to have smaller equipment.

"I know we've been doing them for a long time — and I live up there too. I personally feel it should continue being done. It's been done for 40 years and I don't see reasons of why not to continue."

Adler said there was an increase in danger of getting sued, as the size of the rig had gone from eight, to 12 to 16-feet.

"We're hitting fences... it's pretty serious liability issue for us," he said, adding that the equipment size had increased because the county had been in a buy-back position.

"It's nothing personal-we're just trying to figure out what to do."

The liability, he said, "is going to kill us."

"You guys know as well as I do how insurances are getting... anytime you turn around, somebody is suing you. It sucks. The system is screwed up. If we (tipped) over down there or get down in a ditch with a grader that tears everything up..." Resident Jerome Jenson said it had been "years and years" since the county had picked up any kind of suits over road problems and the commissioners seemed to be making decisions based on' Vhatifs."

Tom Rue of the Granite County Planning Board — after clarifying that Denton's Track and Edward's Track were public roads, but not dedicated county roads — said they were in similar positions with subdivisions that had newly plotted roads.

Commissioner Bill Slaughter said that he had brought up a good point.

"How do we square up what we're doing with these similar roads in other parts of the county? One of the issues is that we've been pretty lucky with our winters but we all know that this year could be that year, when we plow three or four times a week "Having said that, we are supposed to use this county money fairly and equally throughout the county. What about the subdivisions that we don't plow? I have a problem with that."

To the question of liability if emergency services were not able to get to residents because of unplowed roads, Slaughter asked Bonney if the Georgetown Lake crew had access to chains and four-wheel drive. At least one, but not all vehicles did, Bonney replied.

'It's the same in

Greystone as it is in Edwards Track is it not?" Slaughter said. "When it snows down there, it snows up there... then where does this stop?"

Rue said that in the last 20 years, with each new plot a new set of building parcels, the roads have had to be built to a county standard.

"Yet there is absolutely no consideration on the county to adopt those roads," Rue said. "The practice of the county has been 'no, no, no' we won't take them. But if it has been done to county standards, are they not ended to have those same services (as Edward's Track and Denton's Track)?"

Jenson said that residents on those roads were being punished because county commissioners didn't enforce good road subdivision specifications in 1978.

"Based on your argument, we're being punished because commissioners didn't do their job in the beginning.''

Acfier said that at the time it would have also been the public's responsibility to maintain the specifications and that it couldn't just be blamed on the commissioners back then. Rue asked if there was a standard residents could bring the roads up to, in order to have the county maintain them.

"I understand it is history that is being questioned here. Sometimes we see situations when subdivisions are re-subdividing. Part of what has happened — and I say this collectively for the planning board — is that we've asked them to improve a portion of the road up to a standard.

"Could you do something similar where maybe the landowners bring it to a certain standard where you could foresee maintaining it again?

The commissioners discussed how one of the options could be that landowners get together and bring the roads up to some kind of standard, by which the county might continue to maintain it.

Adler added that in some cases fences would have to be moved back 30 feet on some properties to widen the roads and was unsure if residents would be willing to do that.

Slaughter said a policy might be able to put in place, with the help of the county planning board.

"We've talked about it as a commission — at what point do these subdivisions or communities grow out to where maybe it is a county road, where we either start maintaining it — or if it's not a county road and they petition we need to accept it. I think there need to be a formula or policy so it is clear to everybody."

Rue said that as someone who has developed and spent a lot of money bringing roads up to a county standard that is never used or accepted by the county, he had a serious concern.

And likewise to the other degree, if the county is never going to look at them, if they are never going to run one of their blades or trucks down them, why can't we just run shale 12-feet wide across the sage brush and call that our subdivision road?

But he would be laughed out of the courthouse if he proposed this, he added.

Slaughter said the access issue "was one of the problems, but not the only problem."

"One issue is basic fairness to similar roads throughout the county. Second — those roads are being maintained by private contractors, what is the government doing, coming in and doing the job for them?

Jenson asked if petition roads meant mandatory maintenance.

County Attorney Blaine Bradshaw said that there was no longer a statute that requires petition roads to be maintained by the county and it was a discretionary decision for the commissioners to make.

Jenson "Because if petition roads were mandatory maintenance then I would certainly recommend these subdivisions to petition the county — but if they are not going to do anything anyway then all we're doing is throwing grass in the wind."

Bradshaw said that he would advise the commissioners to make their decision after looking at the petition.

How do we square up what we're doing with similar roads in other parts of the county?

Bill Slaughter

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Original Publication Date: November 5, 2015

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