About a month ago, rural Barton County resident Judy Demel complained to the Barton County Commission about the poor and potentially hazardous condition of the dirt roads near her property just west of the Great Bend Municipal Airport.
She returned Monday morning saying nothing has improved. In fact, things are getting worse, especially following recent rains that have added to the washing out of the road.
“I’d like to see if something can be done,” she said. “It’s getting very dangerous.”
At issue is a two-mile stretch of Southwest 80 Avenue between West Barton County Road and Southwest 20 Road. It forms the boundary separating Pawnee Rock and Liberty townships.
And that is part of the problem. Under the system used in Kansas, township roads (most of which are dirt roads) are the responsibility of the townships and the county has very little recourse in making sure they are maintained.
However, the commission decided to bring the problem up as an agenda item next Monday. Commissioners will consider taking what steps they can.
A little background
The road in question falls under the jurisdiction of Liberty Township. When a road lies between two townships, they divvy it up for maintenance purposes, with each taking multi-mile segments.
“The only improvements have been a couple of culverts,” Demel said. She presented photos of holes in the road that exposed crumbling old concrete culverts and underground telephone cables.
There are also other cavernous holes and washouts that extend from the ditches to well into the roadway. Some of these have been a problem for years, she said.
Some of the culverts (buried pipes that allow water to flow beneath the road or driveways) are undersized, allowing water back up and cause the surface to erode. In spots, farmers have cultivated the ditches, also impeding water flow.
Steve Barger, who also lives in the area, came to the commission last week with similar complaints, and in response to these complaints, County Administrator Richard Boeckman sent letters to both township boards. Pawnee Rock and Liberty have both since responded.
Pawnee Rock confirmed the road was Liberty’s responsibility. A Liberty officials visited with county officials Monday afternoon and was upset that the work had not already been done.
There are options
There is legal action the county can take, Boeckman said. If a township continues to neglect a road, the county commission can rule it “untrafficable.”
If this is done, county crews would make the needed repairs and the costs would be charged back to the township. A frustrated commission was ready to act on such a motion Monday.
“The county needs to do what it can do before someone gets hurt or killed,” Commissioner Ken Lebbin said.
Sheriff Brian Bellendir said this is a reoccurring problem in the area. Even though it is only a temporary fix, his deputies have place barricades around the holes.
Bellendir, too, was worried about the safety of motorists using the road. “It is a traffic hazard.”
But, Boeckman said the matter needs to be a be a meeting agenda item.
He will advise township officials that the matter will be on the docket for next Monday. The Barton County Road and Bridge Department and County Engineer Clark Rusco may also be a part of the discussion.
Demel said she would try to attend. Barger would also be contacted.
As for the future
Some on the commission were concerned about the lack of coordination between the county and townships and wondered if more consistent rules could be implemented. “We need a better plan between the county and the townships so things don’t break down to this point,” Commissioner Jennifer Schartz said.