In one week, the Brown County Highway Department spent almost $100,000 on salt and sand, trying to clean up after a storm system that dumped ice, then snow.

“The ice is what killed us,” highway Superintendent Mike Magner told the Brown County Commissioners on Jan. 17.

“When it gets down to zero and below, salt won’t be able to melt the ice. Even stuff that we had earlier in the day that was starting to work refroze at midnight. We had a lot of those issues.”

On Friday, Jan. 12, when the first round of weather arrived, the temperature dropped to 22 degrees.

Roads started to become ice-covered between 2 and 4 a.m., followed by snow at 8 a.m. that lasted into the evening.

The temperature got as low as 4 below zero over the following weekend.

“We can plow the roads in between, and two hours later, they look like they’ve never been plowed. When it didn’t quit snowing until 8 p.m., there were places where it didn’t look like we’d been out and done anything, but we had,” he said.

He said if crews could have plowed roads only once, they would have had all of the paved roads in the county plowed in 12 hours.

“But when you’re going back and redoing things four or five times in the same day, you don’t cover as many miles, and we try to do all of our major roads first and some of the secondary roads. It takes a while to get to them,” he said.

“While we were doing the main roads, people who lived on the dead-end, gravel roads were complaining. Today (Jan. 17), we were doing dead-end, gravel (roads), and people were complaining because we weren’t back on the paved roads. … It’s a no-win either way.”

Besides ice and cold, the highway department also was challenged by a lack of drivers and working trucks.

On Jan. 4, a dump truck was destroyed when its engine blew and caught fire. Magner said another truck had a twisted axle shaft that was to be fixed last week or early this week.

Despite those equipment issues, the department still had 10 to 12 trucks out on the roads every day. The county has 13 dump trucks total and two new plow trucks on order.

The department was also down four drivers during last week’s storms. Three were diagnosed with the flu and had to go to the hospital; another had a stomach virus. This meant road grader operators who usually work on gravel roads were out driving trucks on the paved roads instead, Magner said.

“I appreciate everything they did and are still doing,” he said. “We don’t get a lot of sleep, and a lot of people don’t appreciate that.”

The Monday after the storm, Jan. 15, the department’s salt dome, which holds 1,000 tons of salt, was completely empty, Magner said.

“We only mix that in a 1-to-3 ratio with sand, so we used almost 1,000 tons of salt, plus close to 3,000 tons of sand in that four-day period. That’s a lot of trips when you’re hauling 10 tons at a time,” he said.

Many commenters on the Democrat’s Facebook page were critical of the highway department’s response to this storm, while others offered thanks and acknowledgement of the limited resources.

The commissioners complimented Magner on his response to the weather.

“You guys are doing a good job, Mike, and we appreciate you. We really do,” commissioners president Dave Anderson said.

At a glance

400: Miles of roads in Brown County

13: Dump trucks the county highway department has to plow and treat roads, plus other equipment like road graders if needed

12: Highway department drivers

12: Hours it takes drivers to hit all of the county’s paved roads, if crews have to plow them only once

12: Slide-off accidents reported in a seven-day stretch

5: Inches of snow in Brown County this month

3: Snow days used in the Brown County Schools calendar so far. This puts the last day of school at May 29, if students use Presidents Day as one of their make-up days.

0: More inches of snow in the forecast this week (finally)

Author photo
Suzannah Couch grew up in Brown County, reading the Brown County Democrat. A 2013 Franklin College graduate, she covers business, cops/courts, education and arts/entertainment.