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Road Commission duties extend beyond highway repair

News Photo by Steve Schulwitz An Alpena County Road Commission training event is held at a large gravel pit and the area around it to help employees stay on top of the skills they need for their jobs and learn new ones.

ALPENA — When people think about the Alpena County Road Commission, they probably picture employees plowing snow, spreading salt, or filling potholes.

The crews do much more than that, tackling all different types of projects year-round, and it takes a total team effort to make sure the public services are done properly, efficiently, and economically.

Beginning in the spring, the first thing crews do is get out and begin basic repairs to roads damaged during the winter, Road Commission Managing Director Ryan Brege said. He said road work goes on well into the fall, but employees are also busy in the summer.

“We do a lot of roadside mowing, brush trimming, graveling, and sealcoating,” Brege said. “We also try to do some crack sealing and also contract to do herbicide spraying. On top of that, we have to maintain all of the state roads in the county.”

Right now, Brege believes he has the perfect number of employees on staff, but he is going to hire an engineer. He was the engineer before being promoted in February.

News Photo by Steve Schulwitz Alpena County Road Commission Finance Director Julie Patterson, left, and Payroll Clerk Irma McDonald handle the business aspect of the Road Commission’s operations.

Currently, there is a crew of 22 full-time employees, three mechanics, and several other secretaries and administrators.

In the winter, salting, plowing, and snow removal consume some of the staff’s time, but a lot of time is spent doing other projects when it isn’t snowing.

“Of course, we do our regular winter maintenance, but, when we get long windows of no snow, we send crews out to tree cutting jobs, and other things to keep crews busy until the next storm,” Brege said.

Brege said the Road Commission also does ditch trenching, culver cleaning, and other jobs to make sure water is flowing freely on the side of the road and not causing flooding.

Each year, employees participate in a pair of training sessions, one in the fall and another in the winter. Superintendent Curt Gonyea said much of the department’s equipment is taken out to the gravel pit owned by the Road Commission and employees are able to drive and operate the equipment. Employees normally only operate one type of vehicle or piece of equipment for much of the year, and having them try others allows them to gain some experience, in case they are needed on them later.

News Photo by Steve Schulwitz Alpena County Road Commission Managing Director Ryan Brege examines a map of county roads to answer a question for a resident at the Road Commission office on Wednesday.

“It is a great chance for all of them to try all of the equipment, much of it they don’t normally operate,” Gonyea said. “It helps us to develop a more diversified workforce and breaks up the repetition for the employees, because they do a lot of the same jobs over and over. By having them know a little bit about other jobs, it helps us cover for people who are sick or on vacation.”

Right now, the Road Commission is getting ready for winter.

The large salt barn in the back of the property is being filled with salt, and the plows are being put on the trucks and ready to roll at the first sign of accumulation.

That could come next week, as temperatures are expected to be cold and there is a chance of snow.

Steve Schulwitz can be reached at 989-358-5689 at sschulwitz@thealpenanews.com. Follow him on Twitter @ss_alpenanews.com.

News Photo by Steve Schulwitz Alpena County Road Commission Managing Director Ryan Brege stands next to a large pile of salt stored in a barn at the Road Commission headquarters. Soon, the entire building will be packed with salt, which will be used to keep roads clear and safe for motorists, he said.

News Photo by Steve Schulwitz Alpena County Road Commission Lead Mechanic Tim Beaudoin repairs one of the vehicles in the commission’s fleet of heavy equipment. He leads a team of three mechanics who are charged with keeping the dozers, plows, and graters in working order.

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