GREENFIELD — Residents along Hancock County’s rural roads should have a better understanding of when they will be plowed and salted each time it snows, now that a formal plan for winter weather conditions has been approved.
Hancock County Commissioners Tuesday agreed to a new snow- and ice-control policy, a seven-page document detailing which roads are priorities, under what conditions they will be plowed and even how to handle mailbox damages on private property.
It’s a policy that formalizes what the county department had practiced for years, engineer Gary Pool said. But the new policy should make the snow-removal process easier for the public to understand.
Entering his third month as county highway engineer and hopefully coming to a close of the state’s snowiest winter in history, Pool said a plan was necessary to enhance transparency.
He’s received phone calls ranging from, “Why aren’t you plowing my road?” to, “You’re wasting your time and money clearing these roads.”
“Some people will be upset about it, I’m sure they will,” Pool said. “But bottom line is, I can only do so much about it. I only have so many trucks.”
County roads won’t be plowed until there is about 2 inches of snow on the pavement, according to the policy. In general, trucks will plow from 4 a.m. to 8 p.m., but could work later based on conditions.
The plan lists 16 priority roads that will be plowed first, before any other rural roads are treated. It also lists several intersections in rural neighborhoods that will be salted; five neighborhood intersections, Pool said, have high accident statistics because the entrances can be dangerous in winter conditions.
Contractors will be called in to remove snow from neighborhoods, and demolished mailboxes will be replaced under certain circumstances.
Pool said even though the county doesn’t technically have to replace mailboxes, the department has done so over the years. A mailbox will be replaced if it is a minimum of 36 inches from the traveled roadway. The replacement will be a new – but not necessarily identical – mailbox, but the county department will not replace mailboxes that were of unsound condition in the first place.
“We’ve had a lot (of calls) that were just junky mailboxes, and it’s like, ‘Well, you just wanted a free mailbox,’” Pool said.
With the department’s material and overtime budgets strapped for cash because of the harsh winter, Pool said it will be nice to have a formal plan in place to help the public better understand county priorities.
“There’s a lot of money involved in this,” Pool said. “There are some people who think if a snowflake hits the ground we should be plowing 24 hours a day. And then there are other people who think we shouldn’t be plowing at all; just save the money.”
There’s a ranking system in the plan as well, which takes into account snowfall, wind speed and temperature to determine how many shifts to send out and how many hours employees should be spending clearing roads. While the plan is a guideline and subject to change based on emergencies and conditions, Pool said the department will also use common sense.
“It’s hard to be consistent in our decisions. We’re trying to make our decisions consistent.”
Commissioners Derek Towle and Tom Stevens were pleased with the document. Just before they approved it, a resident who lives on CR 50S complained about the county’s slow response to his road a few weeks ago.
Stevens said clearing that road is not a priority. The area is sparsely populated, and it makes more sense to focus first on roads with higher volumes of traffic.
Towle said with a plan in place, people can generally know which roads will be taken care of first.
“You’ll have opinions: ‘My road is more important than the other ones,’ ” Towle said. “(With the new policy), they know where they’re at and how to plan for it.”
With temperatures rising to almost springlike conditions this week, Pool said he hopes the new policy will be a useful tool to the department and the public not just now but in the future.
“I think everybody is ready for spring. I know my drivers are,” he added.