A contingent of Harris residents concerned about the proposed transfer of county roads to the jurisdiction of the city addressed the Chisago County Board of Commissioners during the board’s Jan. 15 meeting.
The first to step up to the podium was Clifford Thoen.
“We have good reason to justify the need for our county road to be kept and maintained by the county,” he said.
He then detailed his reasons:
• That section of road is used as a major thoroughfare for motorists traveling through Fish Lake Township, and access points off Stark Road, Highway 10, County Road 60 and Evergreen Avenue have a considerable amount of traffic. He and the other residents feel Harris does not have the public works personnel or equipment to adequately maintain these areas.
• Four streets have no other exit than on County Road 61, so if the road is not properly cared for, those residents would have a tough time going to and from their homes. He said 37 homes are dependent on County Road 61 for access to any other road.
• He noted the Gopher Rifle & Revolver Gun Range near the proposed road reversion area has around 500 members, and if the roads are not well maintained, it could affect businesses for the gun range.
Thoen had other concerns, as well, which were given to the board in his written statement.
“Harris has proven that it is unable to maintain the roads and streets which they are presently responsible for,” he wrote at the end of his statement. “Harris would not have the equipment, the experienced labor force, nor the expertise of the county engineer. In consideration of homes, traffic and location of County Road 61, it is our firm conclusion that it should remain under Chisago County jurisdiction and maintenance. It would be irresponsible for Chisago County to now vacate this road to Harris.”
Other residents who addressed the board had concerns similar to Thoen’s.
Resident Judy Hammerstrom raised another issue: public health.
She said while collecting signatures on a petition to show opposition to the proposed road reversion — there are 57 on the petition — she met a young man dependent on medical supplies and medical personnel who visit him on a daily basis.
“In the olden days, neighbors helped each other when someone needed an extra hand,” she said. “This is the county’s chance to help out by maintaining roads so they will be accessible. Please consider this, as Jake needs our help.”
County Engineer Joe Triplett said the proposed road reversions — which includes more roads than just County Road 61 and surrounding connecting thoroughfares — is part of the county’s Transportation Improvement Plan. The county had engineers and consultants from outside the county review the plan, and they suggested some roads be turned back to municipalities and townships. He said traffic counts in those areas isn’t high enough for the roads to keep the county road classifications.
“We’re trying to get the right roads on the right system,” Triplett said, adding that the county does not receive enough funding to cover its needed yearly road maintenance.
“We need to be spending $14 million a year on our roads, and we’re not,” he said.
He added that he understands the concern of Harris residents and its City Council about the road reversions, and said some of that could be due to Harris’s recently difficulty in securing a full-time public works employee.
He said there might be the possibility of the county helping Harris maintain roads until a public works employee is hired, but that decision would have to be made by the County Board.
He noted that the residents also want County Road 61 paved, which might cut down on maintenance in the short term, but paving actually adds to it in the long run as asphalt weathers, cracks and crumbles.
“We’re on a 50-year road life plan here,” Triplett said, which is due to the county being underfunded in its road and bridge fund. “Roads are designed to get 20 years of life out of all of them. It’s a bonding year for the Legislature, and the governor’s bonding bill is proposed at $1 billion. Only 12 percent of that is going for transportation. I don’t get it. It’s disappointing.”
Triplett said he appreciates that the Harris residents came to the meeting to speak in front of the board, because now the board has a better idea of their concerns.