Irwin residents cut deal with county for spring snowplowing

County weighs price and precedent

More than 20 year-round residents of the Irwin townsite might be getting their wish for county plows clearing Kebler Pass Road to the Irwin ‘Y’ next spring.





Longtime Irwin resident John Biro made the latest of many appeals to county director of public works Marlene Crosby and the Board of County Commissioners at a work session on Tuesday, October 27 for a promise to plow 4.3 miles of County Road 12, or Kebler Pass Road, sometime after May 1.
Biro explained how the road turns to a series of deep snow drifts, slush and bare ground that can be dangerous to cross on a snowmobile after the trail grooming on the road ends in mid-April and before the county plows cut their first swath of the season later in the spring. Most Irwin residents commute to town by snowmobile throughout the winter.
“Irwin has become a town. This year we’re estimating that there will be 23 people living up there full-time through the winter,” Biro told the commissioners. “We’re working class people that have to travel into town every day for work, but the trail conditions deteriorate rapidly in the spring.”

Biro proposed that the county support those 23 residents by making a commitment to clear the road of snow in May at a consistent time every year that Irwin residents can rely on. Biro said it was a matter of public safety and “In the event of an emergency response mobilization because of an illness or injury, like search and rescue, it could be a life-threatening delay,” Biro said about having to travel over the extra four miles of snow.
But Crosby had heard it all before and her three major concerns were the same as they had been when Irwin residents made similar requests in the past: money, precedent and the issue of a plowing guarantee.
Crosby ran through a compilation of historical data that showed Kebler Pass Road being opened anywhere from May 1 to the third week of June. But in the majority of years, Crosby said the road was open by mid-May, which is when Biro said he would like to see the road plowed.
“I’ll tell you right now I can’t support dates certain [that the road will be plowed],” Crosby told the commissioners. “I’m willing to work with this, but the concern I have is about dipping into extra budget dollars. If you spend it on plowing, then you don’t have that money to spend on road maintenance in the summer that might affect more people.”
She said the county already spends around $20,000 annually between winter plowing to the trailhead and clearing the road in the spring. It would be up to the commissioners if they wanted to spend the extra money plowing to the Irwin ‘Y’.
Biro asked, “Is there a criteria of when a town becomes worthy of services? Irwin has gone from a couple of people roughing it to a year-round population of 23. When do they deserve consideration?”
County manager Matthew Birnie, who has reminded Irwin residents in the past that they choose to live in a community with seasonal access, explained to Biro, “Nothing about more people living there creates more money for road and bridges. Your taxes don’t pay for the cost of plowing Kebler Pass Road in the spring. There are other county services.”
He also corrected Biro’s assumption that Irwin was a unique circumstance in the county. “Irwin’s situation is not unusual. We have several subdivisions beyond the end of the maintained road that would love to be plowed out in the spring, but we just can’t do that for everyone.”
Crosby was also concerned about the precedent being set if Biro’s request was granted and she reminded the commissioners that they might have to deal with people looking for the same services if the approval were given.
But Biro and the residents of Irwin had something to offer. They said that the snowcats owned by the people of Irwin would be better at removing spring snowpack than the plows used by the county.
With that, the commissioners felt they had something to work with and asked Crosby to come up with some possible plans for plowing Kebler Pass Road after May 1 with the help of Irwin residents, who could peel off layers of snow as it melted.
Crosby said she would want strict parameters set on any private individuals plowing on the county’s road, but agreed that it would help to have those people plow down drifts periodically in snowcats so a plow could easily clear the road of snow when the plow does get to Kebler Pass Road.
She told Biro she would need insurance information for all of the people who would be helping in the effort by the second week of November so she could make a proposal for the commissioners to vote on at their regular meeting on November 17.

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