Closure of ODOTís station at Flora raises concerns

By Katy Nesbitt, The Observer June 27, 2012 02:43 pm

Spokesman says acceptable level of maintenance will still be performed on Highway 3

Drastic state budget cuts are forcing rural highway maintenance station closures all over the state including one 35 miles north of Enterprise.

Mike Buchanan of Oregon Department of Transportation said region 5, which covers much of Eastern Oregon, will see $1.8 to $2.5 million in cuts in the 2013-2015 biennium. Reductions in state gas taxes are forcing the department to cut 75 million statewide.

Buchanan presented the proposal to concerned Wallowa County residents Monday morning at the Hurricane Creek Grange outside of Joseph. He said Highway 3 is a low volume state road and has only 320 vehicles traveling on it each day.

Buchanan said roads all over the state will receive lower levels of service because of the cuts, but would have an acceptable level of maintenance.

Region 5 plans to close the Flora Station Nov. 1 and move the two maintenance workers who live there to Enterprise. He said four shifts a week are already covered from the district office, 50 miles from the state line.

Buchanan said the plan is to keep a sand pile and loader at the station for crews to access during snow storms. He said the biggest cost of running the remote station is equipment which includes two trucks, two loaders and a pickup. The second biggest cost is fuel to run a generator that powers the station — a cost of $2,800 every two weeks.

The department is looking at places to keep the loader near an electric power source to run an engine block heater for the loader in winter and save on generator fuel costs. Long term, Buchanan said the state will probably sell the station property which is a little more than 2.5 acres.

Buchanan said closing the station would save some of the necessary money without laying off employees.

John Hillock of Enterprise Electric asked if the department had considered installing solar power to reduce energy costs and keep the station.

“When aircraft is grounded it (Highway 3) is the quickest route to major medical care above and beyond what is in La Grande,” Hillock said.

With no maintenance workers in Flora, Buchanan said the department would rely on citizens to report on bad road conditions and there is a possibility of installing road weather stations that detect pavement temperatures and visibility.

Delmar Stanley, a truck driver for Farm Supply Distributors, said he is concerned about driving the road in winter when the station closes.

“It is going to be nasty. Snow Hollow Hill can be really bad even with chains as conditions turn from ice to slush,” Stanley said.

With an increased amount of drive time from Enterprise to plow the highway, Buchanan said the department would be willing to bring crews on early and have them work late to ensure the roads are cleared.

Craig Willis, owner of Farm Supply Distributors, said Highway 3 is one of the most treacherous roads in Oregon, especially on Rattlesnake Grade that winds down to the Grande Ronde River and is subject to rock slides.

Bruce Dunn of RY Timber asked if there would be cuts in administration in the Salem office.

“My concern is there are always cuts at the bottom and not the top,” Dunn said.

Roy Wheeler asked Buchanan about a proposal to tax cars based on miles driven as opposed to at the gas pump.

Buchanan that idea may be discussed during the next legislative session next winter.

Hillock asked if the department would consider other cost-savings before making a final decision to close the station.

Buchanan said, “We are moving forward with the closure. It’s just one of a number of consolidations.”