Icy roads

The tell-tale combination of brown sand and ice along Gale Drive in Dell Prairie and the icy road beyond was still thawing Thursday morning.   

Ed Legge, Dells Events

A temporary shortage of road sand contributed to hazardous driving conditions on many rural roads this week in the Wisconsin Dells School District, but the shortage was unavoidable given the severity of Monday’s ice storm combined with previous unseasonable weather events this month, one local official said Thursday.

“I’ve known people who have lived here all their lives and have never seen it as bad as it was this week,” Dell Prairie Town Board Chairman Dan McFarlin said about Monday’s ice storm.

Dell Prairie ran out of the salt and sand mix the same day the latest of three ice storms hit the area in as many weeks, McFarlin said, but even town roads that were treated early in the day prior to the storm became dangerously slick once a thick layer of ice formed in late afternoon.

The problem was universal in towns across Adams County and beyond, the town chairman said, due in large part to this month’s “run” on the salt-sand mixture the county provides to its towns due to this winter’s unusual rain-and-ice storms.

Dell Prairie and all of the county’s other towns procure their supply of salt-infused sand from Adams County on an as-needed basis throughout the winter, but the icy weather of the past few weeks has taxed that process, McFarlin said.

“Normally in winter, we plow the snow and we might put sand on corners and intersections but it stays cold and you always have good footing,” he said. “This year we’ve got warmer temperatures, the rain freezes and it becomes very treacherous.”

“Treacherous” was the word Dells School District Superintendent Terry Slack used Wednesday to describe roads in parts of the district that morning, the third consecutive day district schools were closed because of the weather.

“Typically parents are going to tell you to ‘take the kids, we want them in school,’ but the conversations I had (Tuesday) night were along the line of ‘you can’t have school, it’s not safe out here,’” Slack said.

Fred Steinhorst, director of transportation for the Wisconsin Dells School District, drove many of the district’s roads Wednesday morning and came to the conclusion that staying closed one more day was most prudent.

“Fred did not feel comfortable putting buses with students in them out on the road,” Slack said. “I’m confident in the decision we made, it was made in the best interests and best well-being of our students.”

Schools in the Adams-Friendship School District remained closed Wednesday because of road conditions, and McFarlin said the sand shortage affected many of that district’s municipalities and beyond.

“It happened to everybody,” he said. “I would say this is almost statewide right now. I know of other municipalities that ran out, too, and I think the whole reason is we’ve had three rain events in the last three weeks.”

Dell Prairie’s salt-sand supply did not get restored by the county until Wednesday, McFarlin said, and in the interim town crews found other sources for sand. But that sand was not processed for road distribution and the tiny pebbles contained within it ultimately affected the town’s salt-spreading equipment.

“We got sand from an alternative source, but we ran into so many problems with it, (the sand-spreading process) was un-Godly slow,” he said. “You should have seen our guys picking rocks out of piles of sand. The road crew did an excellent and diligent job trying to get sand down on the roads.”

Treacherous road conditions are inevitable in rural areas during the kinds of storms seen this winter, McFarlin said.

“Unfortunately, you cannot have a ‘clear road’ policy, that’s not feasible in the country. Maybe it is in a city, but in rural towns, that’s not feasible,” he said.

The unseasonable weather has wreaked havoc on Dell Prairie’s salt-sand supply from the county, in part because only about 10 percent of the town’s yearly supply can be stored on site at any one time.

“You cannot possibly predict these types of conditions over a three-week period. It’s impossible,” he said.