County engineer to retire after 25 yearsLong-time Carlton County Engineer Wayne Olson is calling it quits. In an email to the county board this week, Olson announced that he will retire on Jan. 25 after 25 years of service to the county.
By: Wendy Johnson, Pine Journal
Long-time Carlton County Engineer Wayne Olson is calling it quits. In an email to the county board this week, Olson announced that he will retire on Jan. 25 after 25 years of service to the county. The board accepted Olson’s retirement “with regret” (in the words of acting board chair Bob Olean) at their adjourned session on Monday and authorized the refilling of his position. A committee of county officials will be formed to oversee the hiring procedure.
Olson, who originally hails from Wadena, Minn., took over the reins of the County Transportation Department from his predecessor, Boyd Paulu. Since then, he has become the longest serving Carlton County engineer (1987 to 2013), since N. C. Nickerson (1922 to 1964).
In typically unassuming fashion, Olson said he has simply tried to “keep things moving along,” instituting no major policy changes within the department and making “improvements to the county roads and bridges as they needed it.”
According to Walter Leu of the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT), however, Olson’s accomplishments amount to much more than that.
“Wayne may be unassuming to those who knew him locally, but Wayne was a tiger when it came to getting federal and state highway funds for Carlton County roads and bridges,” Leu said. “The numbers are staggering – over $80 million in state aid highway funds, another $17 million in federal funds, and over $20 million in bridge bonding and other state programs.”
During Olson’s tenure in Carlton County, he served several times as chair of the Area Transportation Partnership and Steering committees that helped distribute federal highway funds. He also served for many years as the district’s County Screening Board representative, a board that determines how each county shares in the gas tax.
Leu said Olson was also innovative in design and construction in improving roads and reducing costs by the use of recycled materials and using county equipment and skilled operators for construction as well as maintenance.
“Carlton County should be proud of and grateful for their highly skilled, dedicated, hard-working public works department,” said Leu. “Wayne was a big part of the team that ‘got-er-done.’”
In recent years, Olson also helped oversee the move from the Transportation Department’s aging and cramped quarters near the Carlton County Courthouse to a new, state-of-the-art building just off Highway 61 in rural Carlton.
In looking back over his years as county engineer, Olson said, sadly, two of the most memorable – and at the same time devastating – moments of his career came over the past year. First came the 500-year June flooding that ravaged much of the county and its infrastructure, requiring a massive cleanup and rebuilding effort that impacted virtually every member of his 44-person staff. Damage to Carlton’s roads and bridges was substantial and Olson was successful in helping to obtain $3 million in state aid disaster funds, $5.5 million in flood bonding, and $600,000 in Federal Highway Emergency Relief funds.
And then, in October, the two young men who comprised his survey crew died tragically in a traffic accident as they were on their way to a job site in rural Wright.
Olson said thus far he has not made any special plans for his retirement.
“I guess I’ve planned for that about as well as I’ve planned for my vacations!” he said with a grin.
Leu said that while Olson has certainly earned his retirement, his absence will be felt.
“I have always said the Wayne was one of the best county engineers in the state,” said Leu. “We in MnDOT and the county ranks will miss him very much.”