W. Sterns Rd. near Lewis Ave. on Monroe County is covered in snow on January 9, 2014.
MONROE — A recent decision on a road advisory policy devised to alert drivers to icy streets, blowing snow, and other treacherous conditions has created a frosty relationship among some Monroe County leaders.
The Monroe County Board of Road Commissioners decided at a special weekend meeting to adopt and immediately implement a snow emergency plan — complete with a warning system with levels like in Ohio — without the knowledge or input of other county leaders.
The road commission took its action after previously meeting with representatives from the Monroe County Board of Commissioners, the sheriff’s department, and the Emergency Management Division, said County Commissioner Jason Sheppard. The group has been meeting regularly for months to draft a unified procedure that officials would follow to notify residents of hazardous roads and weather.
“Two Fridays ago everyone was sent a draft policy and asked for their input,” Mr. Sheppard said. “Apparently [Road Commission Chairman] Bob Stammer didn’t like our policy so he went ahead and adopted his own.”
Mr. Stammer said the road commission adopted a temporary policy because the group effort was taking too long. Other snowstorms in Monroe County on Thursday and Sunday created rough driving conditions and prompted the need for quicker action, Mr. Stammer said.
“We were hoping the group would pass the policy one week ago, but they decided to take it back to their boards for more input,” Mr. Stammer said. “We needed something implemented until another plan is finalized.”
Mr. Stammer said the road commission, which voted 4-1 for the policy, will work with county officials to develop a final plan. Commission member Stephen J. Pace cast the dissenting vote. He could not be reached for comment.
The approved temporary plan gives the road commission the authority to issue Level 1, 2, or 3 weather advisories for the next 30 days, or until Feb. 16. The advisories are as follows:
- Level 1 Advisory: Indicates county roadways are hazardous because of winter conditions. Roads may be icy, and motorists should use extreme caution.
- Level 2 Watch: County roadways are hazardous with winter conditions and may be very icy; drive only if necessary. Motorists should use extreme caution.
- Level 3 Warning: Motorists should stay off roadways unless absolutely necessary or because of a personal emergency. Travel is very hazardous.
Officials agreed that an advisory system could save lives if residents and store owners adhere to warnings and adjust their traveling accordingly.
Unlike in Ohio, Michigan does not have a statewide, uniform policy that allows law enforcement to fine drivers who ignore Level 3 orders to stay off roads. Some Michigan counties, especially in Upper Michigan, have their own weather advisories, but policies differ by county and there are no fines.
“We can’t order anyone off the road or fine anyone,” Mr. Stammer said. “Our policy doesn’t have a lot of teeth in it. But we hope it will encourage businesses to close when it’s Level 3 and encourage people to use common sense and stay off the roads when conditions are bad.”
Ohio motorists who violate Level 3 orders can be issued citations for emergency misconduct, said Sgt. James Heck of the Lucas County Sheriff’s Department.
The least serious charge would be a fourth-degree misdemeanor citation if nobody else is put in jeopardy, Sergeant Heck said. Punishment could include a $250 fine or 30 days in jail.
A first-degree misdemeanor citation means that a motorist posed a health safety risk to others and could face up to six months in jail or a $1,000 fine, he said.
Mr. Sheppard and other Monroe County officials said the road commission’s policy cannot be enforced without the consent of the county commission, the sheriff’s department, and the Emergency Management Division.
Sheriff Dale Malone could not be reached for comment.
The Monroe County Road Commission operates independently of county government and receives its own funding, yet works closely with government officials. During the storm earlier this month, it came under fire for how it handled road cleanup in the county, namely in Bedford Township.
Mr. Sheppard and Mr. Stammer acknowledged that there are some disagreements between the road commission and the other county entities that have hindered progress on the snow emergency level policy.
The county commission will likely discuss the snow emergency policy issue and the road commission’s actions during its regular 7 p.m. meeting today in the board chambers, Mr. Sheppard said.
The issue is not on the agenda and no vote is expected to be taken.
The group that had been working on the original draft plan will meet as planned on Wednesday, Mr. Sheppard said.
That meeting, which is also open to the public, will be held at 5:30 p.m. in the Emergency Management Division offices, 987 S. Raisinville Rd.
Mr. Stammer said he and other road commission representatives will attend today's meeting to address any questions or concerns raised by county commissioners.
Road commission officials also plan to attend Wednesday’s meeting.
“If we’ve offended anybody at the county, we apologize,” Mr. Stammer said. “That wasn’t our intention.
“We totally want to cooperate with the county. But we’re also responsible for responding to residents in a timely manner.”
Contact Federico Martinez at: email@example.com or 419-724-6154.
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