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Light snow frees up area road crews

News Photo by Steve Schulwitz The Alpena County Road Commission’s salt trucks, one of which is seen being loaded on Tuesday at the commission, were busy de-icing roads on Tuesday morning, but, so far this winter, they haven’t needed to be used often. That has allowed crews to focus on other work, such as tree cutting and ditch clearing.

ALPENA — So far, this winter hasn’t seen many large snow or ice storms requiring extensive road maintenance by the Alpena County Road Commission.

That’s allowed employees to focus on other projects while not behind the steering wheel of their plows.

The last couple of years, winter has battered roads, and a lot of time was spent in plows and salt trucks to keep them passable, commission Managing Director Ryan Brege said.

So far this year, that hasn’t been the case, he said, so his staff’s focus has been on other tasks,

“It has been a departure from what we have seen for the last two years, so we take the opportunity to do some tree cutting, ditch cleaning when we can, and other jobs,” he said. “We don’t necessarily save any money from plowing snow less often, it is just to address other things.”

Brege said the facility’s salt supply is still strong and noted that, if the weather continues as it is, there could be financial savings from not having to purchase more. There is still a lot of winter left and snow to come, he said, but any unused salt will be used next year.

Like most other operations, the most difficult issue the Road Commission has had to face is making sure its employees are healthy and able to do their jobs. Brege said that, since the COVID-19 pandemic began, strict cleaning and social distancing practices have been implemented, which is sometimes difficult when you have workers who often need to work closely together.

He said employees have only missed a few days because of COVID-19 scares or quarantines. Brege said that is because the staff is being responsible.

“I have to give them kudos,” Brege said. “I can’t praise them enough, because what they do while they are not at work is just as important as when they are at work. They have done a fantastic job, but that doesn’t mean that all can’t come undone next week.”

Brege has been working with local and state health officials to try to get his team vaccinated sooner than what they are slated to. He said Road Commission employees are deemed non-essential and not qualified to be in the earlier phases of the vaccination rollout. Brege said there will be many older people driving to get their vaccines — some of them a significant distance — and making sure the roads are in order for them is a matter of public safety.

“If we don’t have the crew we need, we won’t be able to maintain the roads for traffic,” he said. “If I was to lose four or five employees, there could be a lot of seniors driving on roads that aren’t good. A lot of folks don’t realize how critical we are for every individual in the county.”

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

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