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Meet Your Neighbor: Shannon Burchett now plows through paperwork for Carter County Highway Department

John Thompson • Jan 1, 2017 at 6:31 PM

Eds. note: This special edition of our regular Meet Your Neighbor spotlight series is called “Where are they now?”  In the new series, we hope to catch up with people in the community you may remember, but who may have fallen out of the public eye for some time.

ELIZABETHTON — The last time Shannon Burchett was featured in Meet Your Neighbor was back in January 2014. At that time Burchett had just been promoted to assistant supervisor of the Carter County Highway Department after working as an equipment operator and driver with the department for 22 years.

He was certainly experienced in the department, having repaired road damage from the 1998 flood of the Doe River and spending each of the 22 winters clearing the snowiest and iciest mountain roads. One thing he had never done before was the paperwork and manpower scheduling vital to the deparment’s smooth operation.

Since then, Burchett has grown into his new job. Instead of pushing snow off roads, he has become efficient at clearing paperwork off his desk. He makes sure the work schedules are adequate to meet the needs of the week. He anticipates problems such as snowstorms and floods, making sure he has enough people on call when the storms hit the county after normal business hours.

On more routine matters, Burchett makes sure the department has adequate supplies of salt and gravel and that those supplies are strategically placed for efficient operation during snowstorms or big projects.

Burchett has worked for two superintendents in his new job. First he worked for Jack Perkins. When Perkins retired, new superintendent Roger Colbaugh kept him as the assistant superintendent. “It has worked out well, there have been no problems at all,” Colbaugh said.

Colbaugh worked for 16 years as a district superintendent of the state road department and knew the operation and procedures of running a road department, “I was not as familiar with all the roads we have in the county.” That was where Burchett’s 22 years of experience proved especially valuable for Colbaugh.

Burchett’s institutional knowledge has also proven useful to Colbaugh at meetings of the Carter County Commission and the Budget Committee.

Colbaugh said the department has accomplished a lot during the two years he and Burchett have run it. Several stretches of roads have been repaved with state aid money, as well as the renovation of the old bridge at the end of Old Railroad Grade Road in Roan Mountain and the current project to replace the Rittertown Bridge in Hampton. There are more bridge projects being planned.

The fleet is also being upgraded. One noticeable change under Colbaugh and Burchett is the use of smaller trucks to clear roads during most snowstorms. Some slightly used Ford F-350 pickup trucks have been purchased to replace some dump trucks on the routes. One big advantage is that the smaller trucks are more maneuverable and can turn around on the narrow mountain roads. For big snowstorms, the bigger dump trucks are still needed to plow through the deep snowfalls in the mountains.

Colbaugh said another advantage for the department is that Burchett has maintained his licenses to operate the department’s trucks and other equipment. In an emergency, Burchett can get back on the road and move snow or debris.

That doesn’t happen very often. When the first Meet Your Neighbor story was written about Burchett, he said he planned to keep doing his route responding to snowstorms. That did not happen, as Burchett found his new role required him to stay at the center of operations during the storms.

His role in the department has changed over the past two years and he has added to his extensive knowledge and experience while meeting the needs of the county.

“Overall,” Burchett said “the public has been pleased” with the performance of the department since 2014. “We aren’t getting any complaints.” 

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