Notes re: County Inquiry into Public Roads not Maintained and Emergency Services

This is post #2 in an installment series discussing public residential roads not maintained by the county. See post #1 for more background info.

As part of my resolve to get more familiar with residential roads that aren’t maintained by the county, i called the Clackamas County transportation department. Essentially, I wanted to find out why it seemed as though our neighborhood road is “public” (some would even call it “county owned”) and yet it seems we receive no guidance at all in implementing maintenance.

The gentleman that I spoke to acknowledged that there are significant issues in handling the smaller residential roads and confirmed that they do not maintain our specific road. To give me background on why smaller roads aren’t maintained, he said that the county doesn’t even have enough funds to cover the roads that they do maintain, as mentioned on the transportation landing page. The expense of the smaller roads just aren’t an option.

Next I wanted to know, if they don’t maintain the roads, surely there must be some sort of code compliance, or rules that homeowners who live on these roads must follow? I learned that, at least as far as the county is concerned, there are NOT rules. I believe he alluded to the fact that rules might be different for new roads being established, but they only offer recommendations on how older roads should be maintained.

At this point in the conversation, I’m still trying to wrap my head around the concept that there are no code compliance or enforcement rules regarding our residential roads. As I had mentioned in my previous installment, multiple homeowners in our little area of Beavercreek will tell you that the roads used to be so bad that their cars would get stuck in the mud and they would have to get someone to tow them out. In my mind, I’m thinking that if it gets that bad again, how are emergency services going to be able to access our area?

I pointed this question to the gentleman on the phone, and he said that if the county became aware that our roads were in that poor of condition, they would simply send a letter notifying all property owners that the county would cease servicing our area completely.

This an alarming concept to me. Just a few short years ago, we were dangerously close to an incredibly damaging wildfire in Estacada and the Mount Hood National Forest. Considering that there are 600 acres of just timber property behind our little neighborhood, of which several portions are only accessible from our little road, we’re at considerable wildfire risk. Police and ambulance services are obviously a concern as well.

So, the county doesn’t enforce. But, there are two services that the county does provide to offer “help” to those that are struggling with this issue. They offer mediation, which could help homeowners come to terms with each other about road dues, and a service called a Local Improvement District.

Local Improvement District (or LID) is funded by the public. A majority of homeowners would need to gather enough petition signatures to show the county that we have an area of significant concern. The county would then put together proposals for the project, to be approved or denied by the homeowners. If it is approved, the county would then proceed with the project, and the homeowners would be levied on each of their properties for the fees. Homeowners would have 10 years to pay the county back. But, the local homeowners are still responsible for maintenance of the road once it is brought up to current standards.

The person I spoke with on the phone was not the main guy to discuss LIDs with. But, he did tell me that an LID is lengthy and that the county doesn’t handle small projects. One of their current larger projects is worth around one million dollars, with the smaller end being $150,000. He said that this is because when the county decides to take on a project, they will do everything right: fix all grading issues, redirect all drainage issues, make sure the underlayment is correct, and put on a hefty amount of rock.

I’m thinking it is unlikely that our area will opt to go the LID route. The grade of our road is very steep, and would likely be too expensive to change. The grade is another issue I personally have struggled with: several years ago I got in a major bike crash because I couldn’t get the bike to stop going down the steep hill. I hit one of our major potholes, throwing me into the air and giving me a grade 3 shoulder separation that I’m still struggling with. In addition, during our most recent snowstorm where Beavercreek fared the worst weather, I had two instances where I needed to drive out of our neighborhood. The first time, I reached the top of our hill and started sliding backward, nearly flipping over the embankment. It was a miracle I made it out of that one. The second time as I was coming down the hills, I could not get my brakes to engage. Had anyone or anything been coming my direction, there is no way I could have stopped. In case you are wondering, yes, I do have a newer AWD Subaru.

I’ve considered, since that time, putting studs on my car during the winter. If emergency services are unable to get down here, or conversely out of here with a person in an ambulance during an ice event, it seems that it wouldn’t be wise to not have them on my car every winter. But, it is well-documented that studs tear up the roads. So it seems that putting studs on would further confound the problem of not having enough money to maintain the roads that the county does maintain.

Regardless, I’m still curious about the LID process. I put a call to the person who manages them last week to find out more details. In addition, I’m curious as to what the fire department and county sheriff and state police have to say about the situation. Do they have rules that differ from the county transportation department? Stay tuned.

Installment #3 is located here.

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