Mud season has arrived

With rain and thaw, gravel road conditions are deteriorating

-Submitted photo
This photo, provided by the Webster County engineer’s office, shows one of the county’s gravel roads Wednesday morning. Melting snow and rain have left the roads so wet the engineer is asking for less use of the roads until conditions improve.

The combination of thawing, precipitation, fog and overcast skies are causing conditions on several gravel roads to rapidly decline.

“Getting some sun, no moisture and maybe some wind and warmer temperatures, that’s what is going to eventually start improving the road conditions, not the current rain, fog and overcast weather,” said Randy Will, Webster County engineer.

In the meantime, Will said the county will continue to monitor the 870 miles of its gravel roads.

“When certain ones become severe, we will probably have to put down a road closed to through traffic sign,” he said. “The local resident can hopefully get to their house, but we are going to try to encourage traffic to not travel those roads.”

A large issue is getting feed to livestock on roads that are becoming close to impassable.

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
A Webster County Secondary Road Department employee, who declined to be identified, places a caution flag in a driveway along Nelson Avenue near 249th Street after water flowing along the shoulder washed a section of it out. Crews hand-dug a trench to try to divert the water into the ditch.

“There’s numerous confined animal feeding operations and obviously, I assume, the majority of them do not have any excess storage of animal feed on site, so they kind of have to have daily access to these sites to deliver their animal feed,” he said. “They have no other choice but to travel the roads basically daily or every other day, and that’s understandable.”

If travel is recommended on those roads, Will suggested doing it in the early morning hours when it’s colder and the roads have hardened up a bit.

“But some overnight temperatures won’t cooperate. They won’t go below freezing,” he said. “It would help if it would warm up, but sunny during the day, then overnight go well below freezing and then there would be some time in the early morning hours to do some hauling.”

Another issue that is concerning to Will is grain producers hauling their product to market in order to fulfill contracts.

“The No. 2 concern is to get the grain hauled,” he said. “This is very hard on equipment, and I’m assuming a lot of people. If they can delay their contract period, if they can somehow wait, that would be very much appreciated.”

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
A motorist makes a big splash as they drive through one of several flooded intersections along 11th Avenue South Wednesday afternoon. Rains and snowmelt combined with drains covered with snow and ice have caused localized street flooding in several areas.

Dylan Havens, commodity manager with POET Biorefining in Gowrie, said he’s advising customers to keep in touch with them about fulfilling their contracts until conditions improve.

“With the snow we have had up to this point, there is a possibility of delinquency of some bushels on some contracts,” he said. “We will continue to be understanding and flexible on the delivery time frame if it does come to the point that gravel roads are completely impassable, which seems to be ever so closely nearing.”

Havens said it’s come to an “enter at your own risk” situation for many of the producers needing to deliver to the Gowrie facility.

“A lot of these guys, if it gets to a certain point, won’t push it,” he said. “They don’t want to risk getting stuck on a gravel road just to bring us corn.”

As early as last week, Havens said many customers have already chosen an alternate route to deliver corn. In the meantime, they’re also keeping an eye on the forecast.

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
A motorist drives through one of several flooded intersections along 11th Avenue South Wednesday afternoon. Rains and snowmelt combined with drains covered with snow and ice have caused localized street flooding in several areas.

“Some are looking forward to next week’s forecast which looks remarkably drier,” he said. “We have coming improvements with regards to the weather and with regards to gravel road conditions. They are looking ahead and planning for possibly picking back up and knocking some of these contracts out to the middle of next week.”

Will said he would like to see those loads lighten up a bit.

“If they could haul lighter loads — it’s going to come to a point and time if they are going to haul too many heavy loads, it is going to make the roads potentially impassable,” he said.

Southern Webster County livestock and grain producer Aaron Alliger said he is doing what he can to keep his operation going.

“The trucks are having a hard time getting out. We have to pick the right roads to go down,” he said. “The cattle have to eat. The hogs have to eat.”

Until conditions improve, Alliger said they have halted all manure hauling and are going to try to do as much hauling during the early hours as they can, when there is potential for cooler temperatures to make the gravel roads passable.

Alliger said these are some of the worst gravel roads he has seen, and as a result, it could be some time before they return to normal.

“The roads are just giving out,” he said. “The frost hasn’t thawed to let the water down. They’re just soup. They are horrible.”

For the safety of his two daughters and others, Alliger made the decision on Wednesday morning to meet their school bus at the blacktop road, as he said there would have been no way the bus would have made it to their house.

Schools are now beginning to make the decision to turn to hard surface bus routes.

Lisa Willardson, school business official at the Southeast Valley Community School District, said the district made that decision effective immediately Wednesday.

This is the first time in her seven-year tenure she can recall the school having to make this decision.

“We just didn’t have a choice,” she said. “We would be putting our children and our buses at risk by running the gravel roads and for safety reasons, we just can’t do it.”

Willardson said the school is working with parents to assist in making arrangements for children to be delivered safely. For now, the district’s buses will be running on hard surface roads until further notice.

Will said until weather begins to cooperate, he is asking for people’s cooperation and understanding.

“We will do what we can, but it’s something that is out of our control,” he said. “It is thawing from the top down and there is nothing more detrimental to this time of year than when it’s frozen and starting to unfreeze and you get fog, rain and overcast skies. It would be great if it could warm up.”

He added there is nothing the county can do to make any repairs on those gravel roads.

“In some cases, we may have to drive two to three miles to get to that spot,” Will said. “We are not going to do that. We will create more damage. It just doesn’t make sense to damage more roads.”

The engineering department will also be keeping an eye on drainage systems until they thaw.

“Obviously, there are some frozen culverts. That’s the other issue we are kind of nervous about,” he said. “Until they thaw out and let the water through them, we will get some water backing out and we are monitoring those spots and sometimes you can’t do anything.”

Will said they will further address those issues if there becomes a potential for great damage or danger to human life.

Roads that are closed

A number of county roads in Webster County have been closed due to weather and flooding, the Webster County Engineer’s Office announced Wednesday afternoon.

Closed are:

• Webster County Road P29 north of Clare, from 110th Street to 130th Street, due to flooding.

• Webster County Road P59 (Nelson Avenue) in Kalo, about 47 feet of road is closed due to weather conditions and erosion of the driveway and road.

• McGuire Bend Road, beginning at Sara Avenue through Deception Hollow to the intersection of Vasse and 320th Street, southeast of Lehigh, is closed to through traffic due to flooding.

• Riverdale Drive east of Madison Avenue, located north of Fort Dodge, is closed due to weather and water over the road.

• 180th Street and Scenic Drive east of Madison Avenue, north of Fort Dodge, is closed to through traffic due to water over the road.

• Third Avenue Southwest from Fourth Street Southwest to Eighth Street Southwest in Dayton is closed due to flooding, according to the Dayton Police Department’s Facebook page.

The following roads in Sac County have been closed due to flooding, according to the Sac County Sheriff’s Department:

• 310th Street between Perkins Avenue and Quincy Avenue;

• Hope Avenue between 380th and 390th streets;

• Rolland Avenue between 320th Street and Iowa Highway 175;

• Rolland Avenue from 380th Street to 400th Street;

• Gard Avenue between 340th and 350th streets;

• 340th Street between Gard Avenue and Hope Avenue;

• Ira Avenue between 310th Street and 330th Street;

• Otter Avenue between 370th and 380th streets;

• 310th Street between Perkins Avenue and Quincy Avenue.