Snowball blast

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Despite cold, winter sends Owen countians outside

By Molly Haines

When forecasters began predicting the first big snowfall of the season, the Owen County Road Department was prepared to work long hours to keep roads safe for traveling.

Snow began falling early Thursday morning. By Thursday afternoon Owen County Road Supervisor Greg Smoot and Owen County Judge-Executive Carolyn Keith set the snow emergency level at two.

When the county is set at a level two emergency, roadways are hazardous with blowing snow and drifting snow. Only motorists whose travel is absolutely necessary should be on the roadways. Residents are urged to contact their employers to see if they should report to work.

Smoot said county road crews were well-prepared for winter weather.

“There are certain things you do to prepare for the season,” Smoot said. “You get sand, cinders and salt, you order replacement parts for items that typically breakdown during a snow event. You make sure all of the trucks have their spreader boxes and blades on and make sure they’re in good operating order. You also install snow chains and develop a plan for someone to be on call or on emergency standby. Those are just a few of the things we do to prepare for snow.”

Smoot said although the road department was well-prepared, things can always come up, and they did.

“Late Thursday afternoon, we had a county dump truck turn over on Beverly Lane,” Smoot said. “We think the truck lost traction and took off backwards down a hill. Fortunately, the driver was just a little shaken up and having some soreness. At the same time, we had another truck go out of service because the snow plow quit. We started out with seven trucks and seven routes and by Thursday evening we were left with five trucks and seven routes, so it naturally has taken us a little bit longer than it should have to get the roads in good shape.”

Owen County Sheriff Zemer Hammond said slick roads caused three one-car accidents last week.

“We had one on what they call New Liberty and Sparta Road today (Friday),” Hammond said. “There was one over on Pleasant Grove Road and one of my deputies worked one on 607.”

Hammond said none of the vehicles’ passengers were injured.

“I was pretty surprised,” Hammond said. “I think everyone was expecting a lot more accidents than there were.”

Owen County School’s Superintendent Mark Cleveland said he met with school transportation head, Jimmy Sutherland, and two other county school employees on the evening of Jan. 6 to determine whether kids would be going to school on Thursday or not.

“There are four of us that meet up,” Cleveland said. “We generally drive the roads and then meet back up at the board office but because we had so much advanced warning on the snow, we met at Jimmy’s (Sutherland) office and just looked at the computers. It was pretty much a no-brainer to go ahead and close school for Thursday.”

Cleveland said although the snow had yet to begin falling on Thursday when the buses would have begun their routes, he feels the right decision was made.

“You never know if the computers are going to be accurate or not,” Cleveland said. “We knew if the snow was coming it wouldn’t hit till mid-morning. We knew we would be able to get the kids in but we didn’t know about getting them out. We decided just to go ahead and close them on Wednesday night to give parents as much warning as possible to line up a babysitter or whatever else needs to be done.”

Schools were also closed Friday.

Smoot said by late Friday afternoon another meeting with Keith had taken place and the county’s snow emergency level was dropped back to level one.