GOSHEN — The snow emergency for Elkhart County will be lifted at 10 a.m. Tuesday.
“Based on what we know now, we are going to lift the emergency status at 10 a.m. tomorrow morning,” county Commissioner Mike Yoder said. “... What that means is we expect roads to drift shut again tonight.”
The 10 a.m. emergency expiration will allow road crews to open those drifted roads, according to Yoder, so people can get to work by mid-morning or so. County offices will re-open at noon.
He said it is up to each business to decide if they want workers to work second and third shifts today and tonight. Sheriff’s officers will not ticket drivers who are going to and from work, according to Yoder.
“The only thing is, can they get home in the morning,” Yoder said.
According to Elkhart County Sheriff’s Department spokesman Capt. James Bradberry, “Elkhart County Highway crews will be working overnight and into the early morning hours to continue clearing roads and subdivisions. Motorists are cautioned that the roadways will be covered in snow and ice and drifting on north and south routes may occur. Those intending on traveling during the watch advisory should use caution, leave early, drive slow and be prepared for areas that are limited to one lane.”
After 10 a.m. Tuesday the county will be under a “watch travel advisory,” Bradberry said. He said that under such a watch “... conditions are threatening to the safety of the public,” and only emergency travel is recommended.
The commissioners declared a snow emergency at 7:30 a.m. Monday, and the timing of that declaration aggravated some county residents, according to Yoder.
He said he toured county roads at 9 p.m. Sunday and they were in good shape.
“But apparently sometime after 10 the snow and wind moved in,” Yoder said. “This morning it was just nuts and it created a lot of problems for everybody.”
He said county highway crews went out at 4 a.m. to begin clearing roads for the morning commuters and the plow drivers began running into large snowdrifts.
“We had a lot of cars stuck in drifts and stuck in roads and that just stalls our our entire cleaning process,” Yoder said. “Jeff Taylor (county highway superintendent) called me and said we have a big problem.”
Yoder said it took about an hour to then contact all the commissioners and other county personnel involved in the emergency declaration process and discuss what action to take.
He said once the emergency was declared, traffic thinned on roads within 20 minutes and plow drivers were able to get a lot of work done.
By late afternoon, Yoder estimated that about 85 percent of county roads were in good shape. The only ones closed were on the edges of the county and in open areas where there are few houses.
Yoder said surrounding counties may not lift their own emergency declarations for a while. He said St. Joseph County’s declaration is in effect until 6 p.m. Tuesday. That means workers who drive into Elkhart County from surrounding counties may still not be able to get to work Tuesday morning.
The emergency declaration was not well received by some local business owners and employees, Yoder admitted.
“I have heard from businesses and employees. Oh man. I would give this job away for a buck today,” he said.
He said the timing of today’s declaration seemed to be the big issue because by the time many residents heard about it they had already made it to work.
“I have also discovered today that many businesses are relying on the county to determine if they allow their employees to come in,” Yoder said.
He said school officials do not rely on the commissioners to make their decisions about closings and he said the commissioners will be contacting local Chambers of Commerce to see about better coordinating closings with businesses.
This winter’s heavy snowfall is beginning to have a financial impact on the county, according to Yoder.
He said Toby will be applying for federal disaster assistance for the county and local cities. Yoder said he is not sure what the total cost of the stormy season will be, but in order to qualify for federal aid the minimum amount is $700,000, which the county and local cities have surpassed.
“There is a huge impact on the county this winter because we made the choice to hire additional private contractors to help us out and add to that all the overtime we have been putting in,” Yoder said.
And, winter is far from over. “It looks like we have some bad weather patterns coming for the next three or four weeks,” Yoder said. “I think we are going to find that it has been a long time since we have spent this much for our winter program.”
The road-clearing effort this winter may be so costly that funds set aside for summer road paving will be impacted and those projects reduced, according to Yoder.
“We just look forward to the days when we are complaining about how hot it is,” Yoder said.