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Keeping rights of way trimmed in the rain

Robert Houk • Aug 11, 2018 at 12:34 AM

Wet weather this summer has made one of the traditional chores of the season more daunting. The sound of lawn mowers and grass trimmers can be heard daily in most neighborhoods.

Keeping ahead of fast-growing fescue is no easy task, especially for local governments with miles of medians, rights-of-way and public green spaces to maintain.

“Keeping things mowed and trimmed is always a problem when we get this much rain,” John B. Deakins, superintendent of the Washington County Highway Department, said earlier this week.

Deakins has as many as eight tractor side mowers on the county’s 800 miles of roads each workday. Those mowers, as well as three boom mowers, are used to maintain both sides of the highway, which totals 16,000 miles of right-of-way.

The frequency and amount of rain falling this summer has made that a tough job for county employees. Deakins said he has received calls from residents who report tall weeds and tree limbs spilling onto roadways.

“The Johnson grass can grow to over 3 feet in no time,” he said.

Deakins said county crews try to mow rights-of-way three to four times in the summer. He said recent rain has made it difficult to keep up with that mowing schedule.

He also said the weather has put his department behind on its road paving work. That includes resurfacing 8.5 miles of Dry Creek Road, which Deakins said should have already been completed this month.

In Johnson City, crews from the Public Works Department are responsible for maintaining 140 miles of right of way. That includes 614 city streets and 30 municipal lots.

Dean Minier, general supervisor in the street department, said keeping ahead of the weather has been something of a challenge this year.

“It started out as a wet spring, then went a bit dry.” he said. “Now we are wet again.”

Minier said his crews use three vehicles — two side mowers and a boom mower — to take care of major arterial streets. Earlier this week, a caravan of those vehicles were seen mowing the right of way on South Roan Street.

There are six designated zones in the city that are mowed five times a year.

“We typically start mowing in April and run through October or November when we begin collecting leaves,” Minier said.

The city also contracts mowing for 350 acres covering 17 locations that include Interstate Highway 26, State of Franklin Road and the former Bowser Ridge landfill.

James Ellis, the director of the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, said his employees are also struggling to keep up with mowing the grass.

“It’s been very difficult with the size of our staff,” Ellis said. “We are a little behind this year.”

He said that is why his department is now contracting out some of the mowing in common areas to private sources. Ellis said his department is still maintaining the parks and athletic playing fields.

But he said the city needs help. There are still a number of job openings for seasonal employees in the Parks and Recreation Department.

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