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Weather keeps county crews busy
Heavy rains and hot temperatures are keeping county public works employees busy maintaining county rights-of-way.

When the ground is saturated by rains such as those from Tropical Storm Debby, crews mowing along roads and county property must either slow down or stop work, county spokeswoman Candice Temple said.

"They are accustomed to working in rain," she said. "If the ground is to the point where tractors leave ruts in the ground, they move to another area."

And there's plenty to mow in the county, Temple said.

The Public Works Department estimates the amount of work by acres, not by the number of miles a tractor may drive along the side of a county road.

The county maintains 840 acres on the mainland and another 110 acres at the old county landfill. Crews also maintain 202 acres in the triangular shaped area of Spur 25, U.S. 17 and Harry Driggers Boulevard.

Most outlying areas are mowed three to four times a year, with more frequent attention paid to the county's gateways -- the high-traffic roads leading to tourist destinations.

Two prison inmate crews also help maintain county rights-of- way, Temple said.

"It's very helpful," she said. "It's a cost savings for us. It alleviates a burden for this department."

Inmates typically don't work side-by-side with the nine to 10 public works employees on the mainland and island, but a public works supervisor gives inmates their work assignments when their shifts begin each day.

Inmates are not told in advance where they will work for security reasons, Temple said.

Thirteen public works positions have been eliminated in recent years, and the prison work details, consisting of seven to 10 inmates on each crew, provide a big cost savings for the county. The county pays $43,000 a year for each crew, which works 10-hour days, four days a week, Temple said.

The county has a separate work crew that maintains ditches and keeps them clean after they are mowed.

The equipment, which is in use year-round, isn't cheap. The county has seven tractors, with a life span of eight to 10 years. A tractor costs anywhere from $30,000 to $33,000, county officials said.

Four zero-turn mowers are also used to maintain rights-of-way. Each mower, with a life expectancy of five to eight years, costs between $8,000 and $15,000.

Worker safety is an important consideration, Temple said.

"We have gone to great lengths internally for the safety of the department," she said.

Work crews are required to wear safety goggles and reflective vests for their protection.

Temple said the public can do its part to ensure the safety of workers.

"We urge motorists to be alert and courteous, to slow down and show patience," she said. "It can be an inconvenience for a short period of time."

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