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Turtle River Township paving project goes before commissioners

BEMIDJI -- The paving of a gravel road in Turtle River Township was the subject of a lengthy discussion for Beltrami County Commissioners on Tuesday.

The discussion was a follow-up to an earlier meeting where residents raised concerns about the status of County Road 57, which is located near areas where gravel is mined. Homeowners at the May 1 meeting said trucks hauling gravel from several gravel pits create large amounts of dust and lead to the deterioration of the road.

The issue over County Road 57 isn’t new to the board, as commissioners voted in November 2015 to pave it, with the motion directing staff to “incorporate reconstruction and bituminous surfacing of CSAH 57 into the transportation improvement plan; to be done in segments per engineer recommendation.”

The board also approved the five-year transportation improvement plan in 2016, which included work on County Road 57.

However, the work only included a grading and aggregate surfacing project of three miles in 2020 and a bituminous surfacing project to create the pavement in 2021. But according to Commissioner Keith Winger, the intention of the 2015 motion was to pave seven miles of County Road 57, and have all of it included in the five-year plan.

Because of the discourse revolving around paving the entire seven miles, rather than just the three, County Engineer Bruce Hasbargen presented the board an amended version of the current five-year plan Tuesday.

The new version would add two more projects in 2020 and another two in 2021 to convert the

full seven miles of gravel road to paved.

However, if commissioners were to approve the amended plan, two other projects on County Road 20 scheduled for 2021 would be bumped from the current five-year plan.

“We’re taking care of a very unique situation that has grown and evolved over the years. If you go out there after a rain, or after a heavy haul, you better have the four-wheel drive. There are safety issues and that road gets beat up heavily,” commissioner Jim Lucachick said. “I really think, speaking on behalf of the people that live on that road, that this isn’t a ‘Hey, fix my backyard’ situation.”

“I’m not opposed to the upgrades to 57,” commissioner Reed Olson said. “The concern I have is regarding the projects that are then getting kicked out of the five-year plan to accommodate this. I see no reason why we can’t look at the next five-year plan to complete it. My concern is really about trying to shove it in this plan that’s already been approved.”

Winger said, “I think it’s perfectly acceptable and a good solution. If it’s a precedent of helping our citizens when there’s an unusual circumstance, then we need to set that precedent.”

“Those three miles were on the approved five-year plan, so it’s not like we weren’t addressing it,” commissioner Tim Sumner said. “Nowhere in the original motion did it say that we need to do the whole seven.”

After his remarks, Sumner made a motion to not change the current five-year plan, with a provision that paving the remaining four miles of County Road 57 are included as a project in the next five-year plan.

The motion passed 3-2, with commissioners Richard Anderson, Olson and Sumner in favor, while Lucachick and Winger voting against.

Because the five-year plan will remain in place, work on the first three miles of County Road 57 is expected to start in 2020 and will be completed in 2021 as scheduled. The next four miles will then be paved in the years following.

Matthew Liedke

Matthew Liedke is the city, county and state government reporter for the Bemidji Pioneer. He also covers business, politics and financial news.

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