Sheriffs, state seek solutions

FAIRMONT – This past winter is still fresh in the minds of many. Law enforcement is no exception.

Martin County Sheriff Jeff Markquart told county commissioners Tuesday that he – along with other sheriffs – hopes to work with the state Department of Transportation in regard to winter road closures.

When the I-90 corridor is shut down, area deputies not only watch the gates, but may have to rescue those who end up getting stranded by still trying to make it through.

“When they close the interstate, people just jump on our county roads and then get stuck,” Markquart said. “We had three or four vehicles get stuck in the middle of the road, and then the plow trucks come up on them and don’t realize until they’re almost right on them, and then how do they plow until they get those cars out of the road?”

Markquart pointed out that those who end up needing to be rescued are not locals.

“Most are travelers who are just passing through,” he said. “Most of the local people understand and stay put. The ones we’re rescuing are people that are wearing flip-flops, shorts and T-shirts, with no coat in the car who say, ‘It was nice when we left Sioux Falls,’ or ‘It was fine when we left Chicago.’ Those are the people we are dealing with.”

There are several issues related to road closures, from having enough hotel rooms for motorists, to the length of a closure.

“We can have the interstate closed from Albert Lea to the South Dakota border, yet it’ll be sunny here, and people will wonder why the road is closed,” Markquart said. “Yet there is a part where it’s bad.”

Technology has helped in dealing with winter weather, but in some aspects it is also a curse.

“The last few storms were predicted three or four days out, and the forecast was within a few hours of when they forecast it to hit,” Markquart said. “But people also have their phones, and they think, ‘If I get stuck, I’ll just call someone to rescue me.'”

The sheriffs departments meeting with the state is intended to help refine te state and county policies and procedures for road closures.

In other action Tuesday, commissioners received updated information from Calvin Saxton of the Martin County Fair Board. He reported last year that the Martin County Arena was having trouble with rain water drainage. Since then, a new gutter with several additional downspouts were placed on the arena. This has helped some, but there is still water getting into the fair office area during downpours.

The fair board was considering tiling from the building to the creek, but Saxton said initial estimates are cost-prohibitive.

There also is a question of whether such a plan would be allowed by the state Department of Natural Resources.

Commissioners took no action on the matter Tuesday.