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Commissioners vote to create Rural Improvement District

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RONAN — Chip-sealing of Canal Road will likely begin this summer, after Lake County Commissioners voted last week to create a rural improvement district to shoulder the estimated $79,200 cost of oil and administrative fees for the project. 

Proponents of the improvement project argue that it will lead to fewer road hazards and provide health benefits for residents who live along the unpaved section of the roadway between Courville Trail and Emory Road. The project’s protesters say they can’t afford it. 

The cost factor played into the commissioners’ preliminary hesitance to create the district in February, according to Commissioner Ann Brower. 

“The motivation behind that was the hardship that it created financially for some,” Brower said. “It’s difficult to force that down people’s throat when they sincerely can’t afford to pay for it.” 

The entire cost of administrative fees and oil needed to chip seal the two-miles-long project is split between the 37 property owners that adjoin the road. It equals approximately $2,141 per owner. The amount can be prepaid, or financed over five years. The fee is a one-time occurrence. The county is responsible for maintenance on the roadway. Brower said most counties charge property owners for the entire cost of the road project, but Lake County only charges for oil plus administrative fees.

Cost was a major factor for Patrick Cote, who was one of four property owners to submit a written protest. 

“(In) these times where prices go up everyday, people on fixed income can live without paved roads, but not without food, heat, medicine and medical care,” Cote wrote in his complaint. 

Cote has owned his Canal Road property for 46 years and argued that his neighbors decided to live in a rural area and shouldn’t have expected high-quality roadways. 

Driving more carefully is how Cote suggested residents mitigate the many dust, pothole, and erosion issues brought up by the project supporters in a March 25 Commissioner’s meeting. 

For fellow resident Joe Hughes, driving slowly isn’t enough to curtail the dust that exacerbates his wife’s lung problems that were brought on by Parkinson’s disease. 

“The dust is really impacting her severely,” Hughes said. “I was forced into the situation where I had to do something.” 

Supporters of chip-sealing also pointed out the increased costs of vehicle maintenance that result from the road’s current state. The road is constantly riddled with potholes and turns into a mini-creek during flood season. Recent gravel repairs made to the road were washed away within five days, according to multiple residents. 

“Two weeks after they graded, it’s all rutted up again,” property owner Ted Coursen said. “It’s a washboard situation.” 

Emergency repairs to roads damaged in recent floods will be the priority in coming months, but residents can expect to see work begin this summer, according to the commissioners. 

“This will not happen overnight,” Brower said. 

Property owners can pre-pay their part of the cost on their own, or will be charged via tax notice. The commissioners will decide when to charge the fee and property owners will receive notice via mail. 

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