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Severe winter takes toll on highway department

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News Ellsworth,Wisconsin 54011
Pierce County Herald
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Severe winter takes toll on highway department
Ellsworth Wisconsin 126 S. Chestnut St. 54011

Like for everyone else in this region, Mother Nature has dealt a cold, snowy blow to the Pierce County Highway Department this winter.


Highway Commissioner Chad Johnson and Patrol Superintendent Al Thoner discussed Friday the challenges they and their fellow highway workers have faced because Old Man Winter decided to revert to his grumpiest self during his latest visit. A big part of their problem is public perception, as conditions have left area roads in worse shape than the last few winters, despite their efforts being equal to or better than in the recent past.

“We’ve been able to maintain passable roads and didn’t have to close any,” Johnson said, a feat he contended has required a high level of input from all highway employees.

All get involved with winter maintenance, he said, ranging from office personnel who handle the increased number of calls when there are storms, to the shop staff, who move quickly to repair equipment when it’s needed more than ever, to the crushing crew, striving to replenish sand-and-salt supplies.

Those who suspect this winter has been harder on the roads here than the past couple of cold-weather seasons are correct. Thoner produced figures last week through March 5 for the last three winters showing he made reports on road maintenance from 35 storms and 25 incidents (follow-up attention to the roads) in 2013-14, as compared to 24 storms and 14 incidents in 2012-13, and 21 storms and eight incidents in 2011-12.

“We haven’t had a record snowfall, but no break in the action, either,” he said about this winter.

When it comes to difficulties in doing the job, wind has been an especially big culprit in ’13-’14, according to the patrol superintendent.

“Every time we seem to have gained, the wind picks up and we have to go back out,” he said of plowing. Until the late February snowstorm dropped nearly a foot on this vicinity, the white stuff had been dry and plow crews were able to get the main roads scraped down (that is, before the wind took over).

For more please read the March 12 print version of the Herald. 

Bill Kirk
Bill Kirk was editor of the Pierce County Herald in Ellsworth, from 1988 to February, 2015 and is now on staff as a reporter. He holds a bachelors degree in journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. He previously worked in the media distribution department at the University of Minnesota's Minneapolis campus and is past editor of The Tri-County News in Osseo, Wisconsin.
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