EAGLES NEST— Township officials are raising the alarm over an issue that St. Louis County public works officials say they’ve never encountered before. Residents along both Trygg and Mud …
EAGLES NEST— Township officials are raising the alarm over an issue that St. Louis County public works officials say they’ve never encountered before.
Residents along both Trygg and Mud Creek Roads here have experienced an exceptionally high number of flat tires as a result of “improvements” undertaken by public works crews on the two county roads.
Earlier this summer, county road crews added about six inches of fresh gravel to both roadways and mixed it with a calcium chloride solution designed to reduce dust and better bind the aggregate to produce a smoother road requiring less maintenance. That’s according to St. Louis County Public Works Director Jim Foldesi, who spoke to the Timberjay about the unusual issue.
Foldesi said the county crews used the same local pit they’ve tapped for years for use on roads in the township, without ever experiencing anything like what they’ve seen this year.
“It’s been a real head-scratcher for us, too,” he said.
The handful of residents along Trygg Rd. began keeping track of their flats once the situation became apparent. “Between Kurt and I, we’ve had seven flats so far,” said Barb Soderberg, referring to her husband Kurt, who is a member of the town board.
They’re hardly alone. A neighbor down the road, Frank Guldbrandsen, said the two vehicles driven by him and his wife had tallied six flats since the roadwork was completed earlier this summer. He said his wife, who works in Duluth during the week, has had to have four tires replaced due to the damage caused from the couple miles she has to drive on Trygg Rd. while coming and going to work.
“It’s been really crazy,” said Bob Reichensperger, a resident of the township who also owns and operates Bob’s Standard Service and Towing in Tower. “It’s been keeping me busy all summer,” he said. “We’ve fixed more flats this year than ever before. And Trygg Rd. has really gotten hit hard.”
Soderberg said by her count, she knows of at least 38 flat tires by residents or other regular users of Trygg Rd. this summer, including a contractor who bid a job for a resident along the road unaware that flats would become a regular part of the job. So far, said Soderberg, she knows the contractor has had at least three flats and that he’s started carrying a repair kit with him when he travels to his Trygg Rd. job site. According to a township letter to St. Louis County, users of Mud Creek Rd. have experienced at least 40 flat tires this summer.
As word of the problem has spread, Soderberg said friends will no longer come out to visit for fear of a flat. And she said neighbors are especially concerned about emergency vehicles, which could experience flats while responding to a medical or fire call. One of the township’s fire trucks had to have two rear tires replaced after they were damaged by the sharp rocks while traveling on Mud Creek Rd.
The problem appears to stem from the unusually hard and fractured aggregate now coming from the pit, which features sharp edges and points. Combined with the calcium chloride, which further binds the material, the sharp rocks are penetrating tires, even heavy-duty tires.
Foldesi said the local county pit in the township, which has been used for years without incident is now nearly exhausted and it appears that some of the last remaining gravel deposits are comprised of different material than they’ve encountered before. “It kind of came out of the blue,” he said.
County crews have tried to address the problem by using a sweeper to remove some of the aggregate. Foldesi said that seemed to help somewhat, at least initially. But after a recent grading of the road, the problem came right back and he’s now concerned it will be a recurring problem for some time.
Township officials, meanwhile, are running out of patience and are demanding that the county take additional steps to fix the issue. “The strong request of the Eagles Nest Township Board of Supervisors is simple: We need this problem fixed and fixed now,” wrote the town board in a Sept. 14 letter to the county.
It could be an expensive fix since the improvements put a six-inch lift on the road and until all that aggregate is removed the problem is likely to continue to linger, at least until the road is snow-covered this winter. But that won’t keep the issue from returning in the spring, as long as the sharp-edged stones remain within the road surface.
That prospect is irritating to residents, who now have to make adjustments in their own lives and schedules to account for the elevated risk of flat tires. “It’s really frustrating,” said Soderberg. “If you have something like a doctor’s appointment, you now have to leave earlier in case you get a flat.”
Guldbrandsen agreed. “It’s a beautiful country road but this is a real issue now and it’s very frustrating for a lot of people. I hope there is a solution and that it’s not that every sharp rock winds up in somebody’s tire.”
If there’s a silver lining to the problem, it is that county public works engineers may scrutinize their aggregate a bit more closely in the future. “We’re going to be looking at our specifications for crushing,” said Foldesi. “We’ll be looking to see if they can be tweaked to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”
The remaining gravel at the Eagles Nest pit, meanwhile, won’t be used as surface coating on any other roads, although it could still be used as fill for culvert replacements. “The last thing we want to do is re-create this problem somewhere else,” said Foldesi.