CHESTER – Road agent Mike Oleson is asking the town to think about creating an independent highway department in the next five years or so.
While he admitted that the current system is likely the most economical way to run the department, it relies heavily on the fact that the road agent has and uses his own equipment, and it’s a system that he thinks doesn’t suit the town’s needs as it once did.
The department should stand on its own, said Oleson, adding, “Right now you depend on a contractor, you depend on me.” He explained that he couldn’t be the road agent without having his personal equipment ready for deployment whenever the town needed it.
Though some have complained that Oleson rents his equipment to the town, Oleson has long argued that the town’s department wouldn’t be able to run without that equipment on hand, most importantly in emergencies or when something needs to be done in the middle of the night or during a storm.
Selectman chair Steph Landau and selectman Joe Hagan agreed that the idea should be an ongoing discussion, and that the need may be on the horizon.
When asked by Hagan to sketch out a basic plan as to what such a department would look like, Oleson said it would need four to five employees, three big trucks, one small truck and importantly, a building in which to house the equipment and act as a base for workers.
The current space the department uses on Main Street has two garage bays, neither large enough to both park a truck and work on it. In storms, the trucks go to Oleson’s property, where he has a heated garage to get work done inside and to keep equipment and workers from freezing, he said.
Oleson argued that the state Department of Transportation District in the area has 20 miles fewer roads than the town does, and smooth roads at that, and works out of a large headquarters off Raymond Road. The town doesn’t have a building large enough to work out of, Oleson emphasized.
The road agent said that as the town continues to grow and take on new roads and responsibilities, the workload is outstripping the ability for the current set-up to handle it. As it is, the two full-time highway employees are supported often by Oleson and one of his employees from his private business.
“It’s not a small town anymore,” Oleson said, noting that things can’t always be done the way they used to decades ago.
Landau was interested in what kind of building would be adequate for the department and asked the road agent to do some research and bring back ideas to the board.