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Local

Supervisors approve gravel road embargo, vehicle weight restrictions

Jasper County is putting an immediate embargo on vehicles 10,000 pounds and heavier from driving on rural gravel roads. Officials said travel on these roads is not advised for any vehicle.

The move Thursday by the Jasper County Board of Supervisors follows similar decisions by other central Iowa counties attempting to mitigate damage to B-level roadways caused by recent rapid snowmelt, rain and thawing ground.

The embargo was approved by the supervisors 3-0 and prohibits all vehicles larger than five tons with exemptions for emergency response vehicles — fire, EMS and law enforcement personnel — and county maintenance crews.

Thursday’s resolution, passed in an emergency 1 p.m. meeting, is allowed under Iowa Code. A second exemption required by the state is for animal husbandry — or any travel related to the care of livestock.

“The reality is, we’re in a situation. I don’t want to declare an emergency, but it’s an emergency and we need to take care of business,” said Doug Cupples, board vice chair. “Literally, our roads are getting destroyed by what’s going on out there.”

The supervisors also debated what to do about grain farmers and haulers who need to transport corn and soybeans to market as part of standing grain contracts. Supervisor Brandon Talsma, a rural Newton farmer, supported keeping all semi-tractor trucks off the road while acknowledging it would be a short hindrance on farm income.

“I would encourage people who have private grain contracts not to (travel gravel roads),” Talsma said. “It takes the liability off our shoulders from an insurance standpoint. ... It’s an inconvenience, but we’re doing it for their safety, too. Hauling a 75,000-pound truck on the roads … you’re just asking for a disaster if you ask me. A day-and-a-half of loss, in my opinion, is not going to make or break someone with a grain contract.”

The measure was recommended by county engineer Russ Stutt, and Talsma helped organize Thursday’s emergency meeting. The supervisors also gave Stutt the authorization to end the up to 60-day embargo early if the roads are deemed safe and ready. Any extension of the weight restriction will take another special meeting and vote by the supervisors.

There is a fine for those found violating the embargo based on the weight of the vehicle, calculated by a formula set by the state. For example, a vehicle 10,000 pounds over the limit will be fined $200 if found in violation.

Jasper County Sheriff John Halferty told the supervisors Thursday there are two grain trucks currently stuck on rural roads in the northern portion of Jasper County. He said, despite the exemption for emergency vehicles, he still worries fire and EMS transports will have a difficult time accessing many of the county’s rural gravel roadways.

“I think we’re better off being proactive now,” Halferty said. “We’re always going to have the argument ‘well, you didn’t tell us we couldn’t.’ We do have some plans in place for EMS, fire and law enforcement response to these places ... But we’re going to struggle to get an ambulance down in those areas, so if they’re going to go down that road, they’re probably going to get stuck. Then, are we going to be able to find a private towing company to get them out? Because they’re probably going to get stuck.”

Jasper County Environmental Director Kevin Luetters said he’s seeing rural septic system back up into several basements throughout the county due to flooding associated with the snowmelt and rain. Supervisor Denny Carpenter’s suggestion to allow county environmental workers on the roads to stop back-ups in the early morning hours, after an overnight freeze, was approved by the board. The frozen ground, Stutt said, will keep damage to the road from heavy equipment to a minimum.

Before adjourning Thursday, Cupples reminded the room issues with soggy gravel roads is not isolated to Jasper County.

Warren, Hardin and Winneshiek Counties have all put into place similar restrictions. Paul Geilenfeldt, county engineer in neighboring Marshall County, told the Newton Daily News Thursday he surveyed local roads in his jurisdiction and not one would have more than a 50 percent chance of being accessible.

Geilenfeldt said he did not request an embargo because he thought the resolution would be too difficult to enforce; however, he did put out a statement through the Marshall County Emergency Management Agency also advising residents not to travel on gravel roads.

“Motorists are asked to use extreme caution on Marshall County roads. Excessive runoff from heavy rainfall and rapid snowmelt has caused many roadways in Marshall County to be impassable. Widespread locations have water over the road and washouts due to flash flooding and many roadways are impassable because of the frost thawing from the road,” the release read. “The current road conditions are preventing rock hauling to these areas.”

Jasper County EMA sent out an alert detailing the local embargo via the county’s text messaging notification system. A phone alert for the road embargo was sent out multiple times to Jasper County residents by operator error. In a statement, Halferty apologized to recipients for the duplicate messages and said the error would not be repeated.

Contact Mike Mendenhall at 641-792-3121 Ext. 6530 or mmendenhall@newtondailynews.com

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