Nearly six months after March flooding decimated stretches of paved and gravel road in Butler County, area residents are still raising concerns about the overall progress being made and the quality of the work being completed.
During a recently held Butler County Board of Supervisors meeting, about 20 people packed into the supervisor chambers to listen and convey their thoughts about the current state of several segments of roads comprising the county and its townships.
Leading the pack was county resident Scott Buresh, who had a bone to pick with County Highway Superintendent Jim McDonald. Buresh accused McDonald of flat out lying to the board and county residents about some of his actions relating to what is happening with some county roads.
Buresh, addressing the board, noted that during a previously held meeting McDonald said he had been in contact with officials from both David City Public and Aquinas Catholic Schools regarding bus routes and laying more gravel on these specified stretches of road.
“Jim McDonald has not talked to any of these people in the last two or three weeks,” Buresh said. “I’ve checked in with them several times … And yet he sat here in that (last) meeting and said that he had talked to them. There’s a continual pattern here. The person who you have in charge, who you are responsible for, keeps coming up with allegations and lies, and you continue to let it happen.”
McDonald said that he didn’t speak directly to the David City Public Schools Superintendent Chad Denker, but rather to his own brother, a part-time bus driver for the district, and also to one of his employees who drives district buses part-time. He also noted that he received bus maps from a motor grader driver working on East Butler County roads and was told that Aquinas Catholic is currently doing its bus pickups on paved roads.
“Everything I’ve said is truthful. I think the board is happy with what I’m doing and they say that I’m doing a fine job,” McDonald said. You can’t keep everyone happy but we are doing the best we can … This past spring and summer have been one of the worst Mother Nature has provided in recent history – really ever in Nebraska."
In addition to what Buresh said he views as department mismanagement at its helm, he said that residents have been told time and time again that work is being completed. But, he said that some of the work being completed is actually making the road situation worse rather than better.
“That’s your opinion,” District 4 Supervisor Max Birkel said in response.
Buresh urged county representatives to not simply look at their own district, but the county as a whole.
“You guys as a unit – you have your district, but you represent the county,” Buresh said. “I think that for four months now we have been telling you guys that there are major issues with this county.”
District 6 Supervisor Greg Janak spent some time going over the work that is being completed, or in the process of being addressed by the county. In doing so, he recapped a lot of what McDonald presented to the board earlier in the morning leading up to roads concerns conversation. Since the governing body’s Aug. 19 meeting, McDonald – meeting minutes show – discussed work being done to replace the 26th and L culvert, the culvert on A Street passed a compaction and grade test and two additional motor graders have been working in the Ulysses and Union townships.
Gravel orders have also been being filled either through contracting it in or hauling it locally, and motor grader operators have started filling in their road maps and color coordinating where they have been and on what days. These, meeting minutes show, are then returned to McDonald and filed.
“We (also) have an agreement with Platte Township at $95 per hour to maintain roads there,” Janak said. “He’s (McDonald) got maintainer operators coloring their maps as they blade roads so if someone says a road has not been hit, they can go back and see what has been done.”
In addition, Janak said that the B Road Bridge is being repaired and is expected to be usable by harvest.
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However, there are at least two roads near Ulysses and also County Road 37 between Roads H and I that are still closed.
In the upcoming weeks and months, residents can expect to see more gravel being placed on county roads. Overall, this year’s passed county budget includes an approximately 16-percent increase to roads, and personnel is up about 9 percent. The county’s gravel budget is up about $300,000, too, which county resident Jim Truksa said is a good thing, however, he has concerns – as does Buresh – that a lot of placed gravel is literally being kicked to the wayside.
Truksa noted that along J road heading north out of Ulysses that an acquaintance called him to come to look at the gravel situation along the stretch. Knowing it had recently been poured, Truksa told the board that he went and took a look and that a hefty portion of the freshly laid gravel was now ineffective because another county vehicle coming through pushed it aside.
“Pretty much wiped the gravel off, pretty bare,” he said of the aftermath. “ … No reason for it guys … You guys increased the budget for gravel and if you are going to continue to do that, I think you are going to need to put in a little more.
“Because the next day – not only that day of pushing the gravel into the ditch – was a waste of time because you had a motor grader out there to at least get part of it out. So not only did you waste the time before on that road, you wasted motor grader and employees time the next day pulling it out.”
Board Chairman and District 1 Supervisor David Mach said that board members are in communication with McDonald and being kept in the loop about what is happening around the county in reference to road repair and activities. But, he noted that the board has to let McDonald run his department.
“We aren’t going to sit there and micromanage him every step he takes,” Mach said.
McDonald said that he and his colleagues are doing the best they can, adding that several additional projects relating to replacing culverts, cleaning ditches, grading roads and fixing washouts are underway.
“County road departments have been stressed to the max, not only from overwork but from a large number of damaged sites all over these counties,” he said. “And then just dealing with the general public, most of which have no idea what the highway superintendent and foreman and our employees go through during the cleanup from a natural disaster like this.”
Buresh said that he chose to address the board because he is a concerned, tax-paying resident, who is taking a proactive approach. In his district, he noted that some progress is being made. It’s what isn’t getting done in other areas that is really concerning, he added.
“My roads are like interstates compared to some of these roads,” he said.
McDonald said that his crews have oftentimes been out on the roads working weekends and other irregular hours in an effort to make the roads as manageable as possible. Still, he said, people want immediate results that he said aren’t necessarily possible.
“People seem to just want the road fixed that is running right by their house,” he said. “They don’t want it fixed today or tomorrow, most of the time they wanted it fixed yesterday … We (as a department) have an overall view of the countywide destruction. Most don’t know the county-wide damages and most don’t care about it except what is happening with their main road.”
Sam Pimper is the news editor of The Banner-Press. Reach him via email at email@example.com.