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Douglas County to consider mutual aid for highways

Nine counties would work together to maintain priority highways in Northwestern Wisconsin

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A Douglas County Highway Department plow clears U.S. Highway 53 of snow near Solon Springs in February of 2019. (Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)

Douglas County is formalizing a verbal agreement with eight other counties in Northwestern Wisconsin to get the motoring public moving after an emergency.

On Wednesday, Jan. 5, the county's transportation and infrastructure committee approved the mutual aid agreement with Ashland, Barron, Bayfield, Burnett, Polk, Rusk, Sawyer and Washburn counties to work together when emergencies, natural disasters and manmade catastrophes arise, affecting the transportation system.

The agreement recognizes that such events do not conform to jurisdictional boundaries and can be more effectively handled by pooling equipment, staff and resources. It provides for highway departments and commissioners to coordinate with one another for the provision of mutual aid for highway maintenance.

“It’s really what the northwest counties have in place verbally,” said Jason Jackman, Douglas County highway commissioner. “We meet once a month; we help each other out. This is more of a formal agreement.”

The agreement allows highway commissioners or their designees in member counties to render or request mutual aid from other counties included in the agreement as is reasonably practical to ensure priority routes are addressed as a matter of regional priority. It allow counties providing aid to bill the counties seeking aid for their costs, and counties unable to render aid can’t be held liable for failing to render aid.

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It requires each county to have normal plow route maps and a list of priority routes and roadways that are critical to maintain.
Each member county is responsible for their own equipment and staff.

Jackman said counties in other regions of the state have entered into similar agreements, and the Wisconsin Department of Transportation prefers officials formalize the agreement among the counties.

A couple of the counties already had their corporate counsels take a look at the proposal and they were fine with it, Jackman said. He said Douglas County’s corporate counsel, Carolyn Pierce, is also taking a look at it, and he encouraged the committee to approve the agreement on the contingency that Pierce approved the agreement.

“We’ll set that as a condition,” said committee chair Nick Baker. “Certainly, I think it is important that we serve these communications between the counties because we have trouble with the southern part of the state hearing from us. I think it’s important to have it.”

The committee voted unanimously to approve the agreement on the contingency that corporate counsel approves before it’s signed.

It’s not clear when the measure will be considered by the Douglas County Board.

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