VERMILION LAKE TWP— Some residents along County Road 26 are crying foul over a St. Louis County public works policy that pays for re-paving of driveway aprons, even on abandoned driveways, while …
VERMILION LAKE TWP— Some residents along County Road 26 are crying foul over a St. Louis County public works policy that pays for re-paving of driveway aprons, even on abandoned driveways, while newer homeowners are forced to pay thousands of dollars for the same improvement, or do without.
The issue has come to a head in recent days as a blacktop resurfacing project along several miles of this county road, more commonly known as Wahlsten Road, is winding down.
As part of the project wrap-up this week, the contractors, Northland Constructors, were installing free asphalt driveway aprons for residents there. But not for every resident.
Jake and Sarah Schmidt built a beautiful new home on a hill overlooking the Pike River valley several years ago. When they asked construction workers on the project why they had skipped past their driveway when installing the asphalt aprons, they were told they would have to pay $2,500 for theirs. Ken Koski, a longtime resident, was told the same thing, although the contractors later installed his apron after he dug a trench in the gravel that had accumulated on top of his apron to prove there was pavement underneath.
It’s part of a county policy that Fourth District County Commissioner Tom Rukavina calls “insane.”
As described by county engineer Eric Fallstrom, the contract with Northland required them to resurface existing asphalt, including the existing road surface and asphalt aprons from the last resurfacing, but nothing more. “The policy is that we’re replacing what was there,” said Fallstrom, who has overseen the project. “We are overlaying those that were previously paved, but if you have gravel, you get gravel,” he said. “That’s basically our policy.”
Fallstrom acknowledged that he can understand that such a policy could create ill feelings. “But we try to be consistent with the policy. We told those people they can work it out with the contractor.”
Sarah Schmidt said it’s not exactly a howdy-do to new residents who’ve built along the road since the last time the road was resurfaced. “The thing is, everybody got an apron because they had one before, but our house was built after that, so now we have to buy an apron?” asked Schmidt. “I think there needs to be some common sense.”
Adding insult to injury is that much of the asphalt applied to driveways was to abandoned properties or homesteads. “It’s amazing that we have such a lack of common sense as a county,” said Rukavina, who has fielded complaints over the issue. Rukavina said he took a drive along the road in recent days and was shocked at what he saw. “We have several old houses that have caved in that have brand new aprons,” he said. “At the old Vermilion Co-op, which hasn’t operated since the 1970s and is caving in as well, we paid to install not one, but two brand new aprons there,” Rukavina said. “I counted at least five or six new aprons that go absolutely nowhere. One of them was no more than 100 feet west of a new quarter-million-dollar home that didn’t get one. To me, it’s the most asinine thing I’ve seen at the county yet,” he said.
Rukavina called it a systemic problem, where the elected commissioners have remarkably little say over the way county staff operates. “We’re just bobbleheads,’ he said. “Whenever the administration recommends something, we just nod our heads.”
Rukavina said he’s talked to other commissioners and hopes to be able to tell public works to exercise more common sense on resurfacing projects in the future. But he said he expects he’ll face pushback even on an issue as seemingly sensible as this one. “I’m sure the vast majority of county residents would agree with me on this one,” he said.
For Schmidt, the issue hits pretty close to home. “It doesn’t make sense that we can’t have an apron, too,” she said.