Residents living on Carlton County Road 13 in Moose Lake and Barnum townships oppose a plan to convert a local road to gravel, and they let the Carlton County Board of Commissioners know their thoughts at the board's meeting Tuesday, July 13.
Community members who live on the road were upset when they received a letter from the Carlton County Transportation Department notifying them of the planned change, according to Bryce Bogenholm. Bogenholm owns a farm on the stretch of road off of County Road 8.
“Everybody’s just dumbfounded that they would even consider doing this,” Bogenholm said. “It’s just not right — that’s not good government. It’s just not how you treat people.”
Bogenholm said a community meeting was held with about 25 residents, county engineer JinYeen Neumann and commissioners Mark Thell and Gary Peterson. The issue was the cost of repaving the road, Neumann said. Reconstructing the road with asphalt with full depth reclamation would cost the county nearly $1 million, while doing the same with gravel is about $10,000.
“What JinYeene said was it's all about the money, but we are one of the highest taxed counties in the state of Minnesota, which is saying a lot for Minnesota,” Bogenholm said. “You have a 0.5% sales tax that’s supposed to go to roads. It’s a state aid road that the county gets money from that I live on.”
Neumann told the board that the county gets about $2 million a year from the local option transportation sales tax, but with more than 450 miles of roads to maintain, the money doesn’t go very far.
Neumann also said there are problems with accepting state funding to reconstruct the road.
“In order to spend state money on it, we’d have to bring it up to state standards,” Neumann said. “There’s two almost 90 degree curves on it that don’t meet state standards.”
To regrade and straighten the curves, the cost of the project would rise to approximately $2 million, Neumann said.
Commissioner Tom Proulx said he could see Bogenholm’s argument and noted there was no consideration given to returning 14th Street in Cloquet, which is currently being reconstructed, to gravel.
Neumann said that was true, but 14th Street has 1,000 cars a day traveling on it. County Road 13 has just 105, according to a study conducted by the county.
Dan Reed, an Automba Township supervisor, said the county board made a “major blunder” many years ago paving township roads that shouldn’t have been paved in the first place. Back then there was pressure from county commissioners to put tar down on gravel roads with little or no base.
“They made a bad decision at the time to tar a road that had no base to begin with,” Reed said. “If you do a full depth reclamation and you grind it in at 18 inches, then you’re able to blade periodically, that holds up pretty well ... It’s not the end of the world. I’ve been on some of those projects, it’s been done — it’s not necessarily a bad thing.”
Bogenholm said he built his home and farm on County Road 13, some of which he uses to produce “dust-free” hay for horses, precisely because it was paved.
“Dan, if I wanted to build a $700,000 house on a dirt road, I would have done that,” Bogenholm said.
Another option to keep some sort of pavement on the road was to use a new technology called Otta Seal, Neumann said. Otta Seal is an asphalt emulsion combined with gravel that creates a dust-free driving surface.
“Basically, it’s a beefed up chip seal,” Neumann said. “If you were driving on it, you wouldn’t know the difference between bituminous roadway and Otta Seal unless you really looked at it closely.”
Neumann estimated using Otta Seal to resurface County Road 13 would cost approximately $100,000. She said more research on the method is needed and she plans to reach out to other counties in Minnesota that have used it before making a decision.
Another public meeting is planned for December to get more feedback from residents. Construction on the project isn’t expected to begin until Summer 2022.