KEEPING WATCH - DUST STILL ROLLS ON JEWEL AVENUE
HENRY COUNTY — 8/7/2013
The Owners along Jewel Avenue have decided that the limestone chips used on the Jewel Avenue chip and seal Trial Project have turned out to be a dust problem.
Currently the chip and seal surface is considerably more dusty than the gravel that has been treated for dust control where the chip and seal surface ends at the Big Creek bridge on Jewel. You might want to go for a ride every now then to evaluate this Trial Project.
The Owners paid to have an asphalt/water emulsion applied to the chips at their expense by the construction contractor a while back for dust control and already the dust is back. Would the fact that the owners paid for the application indicate that dust control is not part of the counties maintenance responsibility but rather part of the initial construction costs and/or an adjacent land owner option? How many more times will this be "necessary"?
All costs related to the Jewel Avenue Trial Project are of interest to county tax payers to allow a comprehensive financial evaluation of the Trial so as to assist in future planning and to compare the Trial costs to similar studies and the long term historical experiences of neighboring counties accumulated over many miles and many years.
At least once, the county has seen the need to use a rotary brush mounted on a county truck to spread the chips evenly on the road so they can be worked into the surface.
I notice the chips are drifting again. How many times might this brushing be necessary? Is the brush always mounted on the truck? Who is inspecting the road and making maintenance decisions? Are the inspections also additional costs that need to be recorded?
Yesterday on my way from Franklin Ave. to New London on the 34 bypass I watched as a semi going west on Jewel raised a cloud of dust. I wonder how much semi traffic there is on that road, especially in the spring. Might the road need to be embargoed?
POLLUTION BLOOMS IN JOY LAKE
Recently grandson Riggs and I went to Joy Lake to enjoy an afternoon of snorkeling. We took the canoe along to serve as a floating base of operations. When we got to the Lake we noticed something felt strange. So rather than jumping right in we decided to take a tour.
On the tour we noticed there were some floating blobs of what appeared to be some kind of bright green, almost blue/green moss or algae. Upon closer inspection we saw small curds of the stuff clinging to the aquatic vegetation as well as a thin mat of it that had washed up along the north shore on the west end of the lake.
Upon closer inspection we could see the cool north breeze was fragmenting the slim and blowing it back across the lake to the south. We could see several of the bright green curds per square foot floating just below the surface.
The east half of the lake is sufficiently shallow to allow pondweeds to grow and this mat of vegetation worked like a filter so that in the open areas within the mat we did not see any of the green goo. We went snorkeling there and enjoyed watching the sunfish weaving their way through the underwater forest.
We got a sample of the moss then and took off to find Iowa Wesleyan Biology Professor DP Wilson. We knew that she would be able to help us learn if the green cottage cheese floating in the lake was something to be concerned about.
We found DP at home and we all headed for the lab. Starting with low magnification we worked our way up until we could see the goo was in fact single cells connected together to create a mass of tangled green spaghetti . The threads were also observed to be incased in a clear gelatinous sheath that had the effect at the macro level of making the whole mess appear to be a gob of green snot.
Ok, DP, so what is it? Well it is not algae she assured us, it is cyanobacteria. To see what we were looking at visit: http://www.cyanobacteria-platform.com/cyanobacteria.html
There is much more to be learned about this stuff, good stuff like it has been a significant contributor to the creation of the oxygen rich atmosphere of the planet, and bad stuff, like it can make you sick if you swallow it while swimming.
The chlorophyll, the green pigment that makes it appear green and allows it to preform photosynthesis did not appear to me to be localized in chloroplasts as it is in green plants. Instead it seemed to be blended in the cell fluid. Even greater magnification would have helped to view that more conclusively. http://www.ucmp.berkeley.edu/bacteria/cyanolh.html
DP was quick to point out single celled critters moving within the mass to include diatoms and euglenas. Euglenas are her favorite she says because they are free swimming animals who can both ingest food, and with the help of a chloroplast, photosynthesize it. They even have an eye spot to help them swim toward the light with a whip of a tail. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Euglena.jpg
Back to the blue/green algae, as cyanobacteria is often called, it shows up abundantly in "blooms" in Iowa water bodies that have been polluted with agricultural run off. This year is especially bad since we had heavy rain in the spring following fertilizer applications.
Everybody loses when the fertilizer that the farmer wanted to end up in his crop ends up in our water instead.
PS: It is great to have a Biology Professor par excellent in the family.
7/24/2013 CRYSTAL CLEAR JEWEL AGREEMENT?
But what if the supervisors determined there was no need for any maintenance? Is that an option? That would be fodder for a court case with the county being found liable for normal and customary maintenance plus court costs. Early on the county's engineer noted 7 grand a year is about average maintenance for chip and seal roads. Already the county has been out with "the brush" on a truck to level the gravel chips. I asked Gary See if the maintenance and monitoring costs to date were being recorded. He said they would start doing that when the new engineer comes on board. Good save.
I would not be surprised that those costs have been noted by the current engineer but obviously not on the instructions of the board. "The design of the experiment" for this project, to include tracking the costs, is currently non-existent.
This morning I am thinking, how much the taxpayers must pay for this project is limited to 10 grand but how much the supervisors may pay is unlimited.
The supervisors have not in this contract given the taxpayers any cut and dried limit on how much they might be willing to invest in this project. Anything over 10 grand may be optional while anything over the cost of maintaining a low travel gravel is favoritism.
So now the question is, how much does it cost to maintain a low travel gravel? Looking quickly at the budget of the maintenance department it looks like 5.5 grand is generous for an average mile. That would be under 4.5 grand for the .77 mile stretch of Jewel Avenue. 4 grand is probably closer for a low travel gravel.
I would continue to discuss the contract with the supervisors but Gary See says he is done talking to me about this project. Those guys really hate public participation and that is why there was no public hearing and that is why everybody, and I do mean everybody, is confused about what the contract says and the limits on the taxpayer financing of this project. But as always I could be wrong. I look forward to having someone lead me through the agreement and answer my questions.
Here, like in Mt. Union, and like with the Whaley Waste Contract, what is lacking is supervisors willing to burn the night oil to work to work their way through the entanglements of contract language. That failure is costing the county taxpayers thousands of dollars.
7/21/2013 Mutual Motive for the Amendment:
Under the Agreement as I read it.
From the county tax payers point of view, a running average doled out by a friendly board on a monthly allowable maximum basis within the terms of the Agreement would cost the county just under 40K over 5 years. 416.66/month for the first 24 months for 9998.84 and 833.33/month for 36 months there after for $29,999.88 for a total of 39998.72. This keeps the costs under the max of $10,000 for any 12 month period and on par with the requirement that annualized costs for the first two years shall not exceed $5,000 per year. Point being, the scheduling of the maintenance costs would encourage additional favoritism directed toward the Owners and additional costs for the taxpayers.
At the other extreme, an antagonistic board could refuse to schedule maintenance until it amounted to just over $10,000 in a 12 month period and thus fail the project and void any further investment by the county in the maintenance of the project.
Can it be? Let me go get a copy of the contract so You can read it and check out my logic and my math.
Here You go.
"Concerning maintenance, the contract reads:
• If at 24 months from the date of formal acceptance of the completed project by the county, the county’s cost of annual maintenance has exceeded $5,000, then the project may be determined to be a failure.
• If for any 12 month period after acceptance of the project, the county’s cost of maintenance exceeds $10,000, then the project may be determined to be a failure.
• If at the end of 60 months from the date of formal acceptance of the project by the county, the cost of maintenance has exceeded $25,000 for the 60 months period, the county may determine the project to be a failure."
The above portion of the contract is cut and pasted from a Mt. Pleasant News article.
Check it out and let me know what You find. I welcome the revelations of my errors. Give me a call at 986-6650 and let me know what I am missing here.
I propose consideration of a Master Amendment of Intent to the Agreement, with any deletions necessary to comply with its intent, and to read as follows:
The adjacent land owners shall have joint and several liability for all maintenance costs of the chip and seal surface (to include the cost of reverting the chip and seal surface to gravel at the end of 60 months at the discretion of the county but minus $x,xxx.xx annually, that amount being the estimated annual cost to the county of maintaining .77 mile of low travel gravel) so that all the costs and/or the financial benefits of the chip and seal surfacing of this project shall be belong to the land owners who have invested in this project. The owners too may request and then must fund the conversion of the chip and seal surface back to gravel at any time which then voids any further liability for the owners under this agreement.
What I am really asking for here is public hearings where such stuff as I have been throwing around can be discussed and too, the assurance that this project shall meet the original goal of not increasing the secondary road maintenance costs of the county.
But what if the county lets maintenance costs build up to something over, but not much over, $10,000 and then does or contracts out the work? According to the contract wouldn't that allow the county to get off the hook for any additional maintenance or to even tear up the road and put it back to gravel? So with some careful maintenance scheduling could it be that the cost of maintaining the chip and seal could be even less than that for gravel? We may now be approaching the best case scenario. I think Gary See saw this early on.
What I am hoping is we all see is how essential it is for all the players to get together and to hash things out be it Jewel Avenue or RUSS and Mt. Union. Right now I am pretty confused about both.
I have spent Saturday morning going over the numbers and the terms of the Agreement yet another time and I am now comfortable that the worst case liability to the Henry County tax payers for the maintenance of the chip and seal surface on Jewel Avenue as narrowly determined by the contract is only on the order of twice as much as it would have been for a gravel road. Something like $40,000 over 5 years. Yes, the tax payers have been duped but not quite as badly as it appeared to me earlier. I was erroneously thinking in terms of 12 month blocks instead of a 12 month running average. The running average should allow maintenance to be shut down more quickly as costs begin to climb. Blocks of necessary maintenance toward the end of the agreement could still present a problem. If there is someone doing a better job pushing the numbers and possible scenarios, please have at it. This is why a public hearing with the landowners, the supervisors, a good mathematician and a lawyer would have been nice. If my floundering around with larger numbers got your attention, no apology for that. However, I am always ready to apologize for my limited math skills and do so yet again.
What we expected and what we read repeatedly in the News was that the adjacent landowners would pay for the initial chip and seal surfacing of Jewel Avenue and then county residents would pick up the tab for maintenance, up to the average cost of maintaining a .77 mile gravel surface for five years.
In other words, we were told repeatedly and we were expecting that this trial was not going to cost you and I a dime. What's not to like about that?
Its a ruse.
Today when I asked the supervisors to quantify the worst case liability to the Henry County tax payers for the maintenance of the chip and seal surface on Jewel Avenue over the next five years I did not get a straight forward "we all agree" kind of answer.
You might think a pat answer would be on the tip of their tongues. Not so. The most straight forward uncontested answer I did receive from a supervisor was from Greg Moeller. He said the county would pay on average 5 thousand per year up to 25 thousand dollars over five years. It was one of those 25 thousand dollars or five years which ever comes first deals.
That would put the tax payers are on the hook for 5 thousand per year on a .77 mile stretch of chip and seal road or right at $6.5 thousand per mile per year.
That's a bit pricey, with tax payers on the hook for a favor of over a thousand dollars a year, but now I wish even that was true.
If it is was true, then what You and I and the Mt. Pleasant News expected would at least be close to what we got. But what did We get? We are on the hook for what could well end up costing us over two or even three times that much.
Here is what the contract says about 60 months,
"If at the end of 60 months from the date of formal acceptance of the Project by the County, the cost of maintenance has exceeded $25,000.00 for the 60 month period, the county may determine the project to be a failure."
$25,000 is certainly not the limit of tax payer liability for the maintenance of the chip and seal surface during the sixty months it is only the limit for a requirement for the county to consider the trial a success at the end of 60 months which would then have required them to consider some specified ongoing management options.
So say the maintenance cost for the first two years combined is 10 grand, and then the third year it is another 10 grand and then the fourth year is still another 10 grand and then the fifth year it is necessary to spend 30 grand to maintain the road surface (all within the limits of the contract). The trial project will then be an utter failure but Henry County tax payers will still be on the hook for 50 grand in maintenance costs!
Could costs go even higher? You bet they could. Resurfacing the road in the fifth year alone could cost Henry County tax payers over 60 grand.
Depending on how well the road holds up it is reasonable to expect that You, Henry County tax payers, are going to be paying twice as much to maintain the chip and seal surface as You would have spent on maintaining the gravel but here is hoping it goes much better.
As for the trial, I am left wondering if this another test by Supervisor Lindeen to see how well handing out favors to favorites is received by his fellow board members and the residents of Henry County. He knows You much better than I do on that count and it seems to be going very well.
The repeated reporting by the News that the cost of maintaining the chip and seal surface to the county taxpayer would not exceed the cost of maintaining the gravel surface is in keeping with what I too believed right up to Gary Sees vote. But Gary is full of surprises any more, ever since he pulled back his support for honoring the request of the Friends Church for a tax abatement. Compare the costs and the principles involved between the two.