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County Board: Policy expected to ban roadside hazards

A policy proposal to regulate potential hazards along county roadsides may be heard as soon as Aug. 19, say Beltrami County commissioners.

A light County Board -- Commissioners Quentin Fairbanks and Jim Lucachick were absent - told County Highway Engineer Tyler Koos to present a policy on right-of-way encroachments at the board's next meeting.

The policy attempts to clear obstructions ranging from immovable signs to cars and equipment for sale from rights-of-way along county roads.

Koos presented a draft policy at the board's Tuesday afternoon work session, with Commissioners Jim Heltzer, Joe Vene and Jack Frost offering input and telling him to finalize a policy for board consideration later this month.

While not an ordinance, County Administrator Tony Murphy suggested the board treat the proposed policy similarly, which means holding three readings, with the second involving a public hearing.

"I can't stress enough that in this county tourism generates a lot of economic impact," said Frost. "I'll be watching this closely."

Frost complained at the board's last meeting July 21 that banning signs in county rights-of-way would mostly affect resorts, which place their signs close to the roadway. Frost owns Joe's Lodge on Lake Andrusia and he's already moved his sign once.

"People want to reach their destination," he said, adding that resorters from Nebraska or Iowa need to be able to locate a resort in the woods.

Both Heltzer and Vene said they'd received calls on the issue, but all three commissioners decided to proceed with considering a policy.

"Calls to me have called this a tempest in a teapot and that there are not that many problems," Vene said.

"This would be too bad to make resorts take down their signs, but we will solve that," said Heltzer.

One proposal is to split the right-of-way into two zones, Koos said. While the right-of-way may range up to 66 feet from the road centerline, a "recovery area" only ranges 21 to 27 feet from the centerline.

"A recovery area is if a driver loses control of a car, it's the distance required if someone realizes it and comes back into control," Koos said. An average daily traffic count on the roadway helps determine how deep the recovery area must be.

The recovery area "is basically the shoulder and a little bit beyond," he said.

The second zone would be the rest of the right-of-way outside the recovery area. "They need to be treated differently, but hazards would definitely not be allowed in the recovery area," Koos said.

According to the policy draft, those with encroaching hazards in the right-of-way recovery area would be given 30 days to remove the obstruction or the county will remove it or seek legal prosecution.

Encroachments outside the recovery area but inside the right-of-way would see:

- Fences within the right-of-way are to be removed.

- Trees, plants, rocks or other landscaping items that represent a potential safety hazard to errant motorists as deemed by the county highway engineer are to be removed.

- Plants, rocks or other landscaping items that do not represent a potential safety hazard to errant motorists as deemed by the county highway engineer will be allowed to remain.

A fourth position won favor with Frost, who says would help resorts keep their signs.

The proposal calls for non-County Highway Department installed signs that do not meet breakaway sign support standards are to be relocated off the right-of-way or replaced with signs meeting breakaway sign standards. The owner would be given a set period of time to relocate or replace the sign.

The provision "presents a ray of hope," said Frost. "But also we don't want the loss of state or federal dollars" by not having a policy.

"There have not been a lot of problems out there, but it's a better time to get a policy when you're not faced with a problem," said Lou Tasa, state Department of Transportation right-of-way official.

"There are better ways," he said, suggesting the sign owner could lease the private property off the right-of-way, if a sign by the road is needed for a resort back in the woods.

Heltzer also asked that the policy allow campaign lawn signs which for the most part are breakaway and pose no hazard.

"Political signs won't kill or maim anyone," Heltzer suggested, adding that they should be allowed for a 30-day period prior to an election. " The average lawn sign can be read by anyone going down the highway -- they don't need to be read from the moon."

Murphy, however, said that campaign signs might be better handled under a sign ordinance rather than right-of-way encroachment policy.

He also suggested that Koos' draft include definitions, such as encroachment and recovery area.

In other business Tuesday, the three-member panel during the regular meeting awarded a bid for construction of a County Road 305 bridge over the Turtle River between Movil Lake and Beltrami Lake to Swingen Construction Co. of Grand Forks, N.D.

Swingen's bid of $476,100.50 was the lowest responsible bidder of six bids submitted for the project which will use state bridge bonds for the bridge and county funds for gravel approaches.

"I'm pleased we got so many bidders," Koos said of the project that will replace a one-lane bridge built in 1938.

The bid exceeded the engineer's estimate, however, which was $449,935. "The engineer's estimate was done last winter," Koos said. "And we are late in the construction season and the prices reflect that."

Construction will take six to eight weeks, he said, meaning people using that crossing will have a long detour during that time.

The new bridge will be two lanes, support legal loads, have guardrails, and designed to a 30 mph standard, Koos said.