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Boreal Community Media

Winter Maintenance is “Snow Problem” for Highway Department

Dec 04, 2020 09:43AM ● By Editor

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By Cook County Highway Maintenance Supervisor Josh Dix from Cook County MN - December 4, 2020

In this update from the Cook County Highway Department, we’ll let you know about our plan for dealing with community spread of COVID-19; innovation and training for the plow drivers who serve our community; and our request to call us directly at the highway department with concerns about road conditions, saving the sheriff’s department number for emergency conditions only. 

COVID-19 Plan

The highway department has recently implemented additional COVID-19 safety precautions to help keep our plow drivers safe and healthy as we enter winter.  After news of Duluth’s police force enduring 25 percent of its officers in quarantine for COVID-19, we knew we needed a proactive approach to ensure that our drivers are not spreading COVID-19 to each other at work should the unfortunate day come that one of us tests positive.

In addition to implementing the countywide COVID-19 plan, we’ve taken additional steps that include segregating crew members from each other and asking our mechanics, engineering techs and drivers to avoid close contact with each other whenever possible.  The pairs of drivers at the Tofte and Hovland garages have been asked to avoid spending time indoors together, and they’ve each been provided an extra truck from Grand Marais to minimize carpooling.

At the Grand Marais shop, the mechanics are looking at staggered shifts to minimize the time they spend working together indoors, and drivers have been split into two groups, with only half reporting to the garage for work each day and the other half reporting directly to the field.  We’re hopeful these steps will help ensure that, should one of us here experience a COVID-19 exposure, it will not extend to other staff members. It is our utmost priority to keep our drivers safe and our plows on the road during this pandemic. 


Thankfully, winter doesn’t bring just pandemic doom and gloom.  For many of the folks here, plowing is our favorite job and we are excited to get out there. Most of the drivers recently attended a virtual training to become MPCA Level 1 Smart Salting certified.  This class covered a broad array of winter maintenance topics, from salt and sand storage to equipment calibration and alternative deicers.  The overarching theme was providing the highest level of service possible while utilizing best management practices to minimize chloride pollution. While Cook County is one of the lowest road salt users in the state, we are continually seeking ways to improve service levels without a coinciding increase in salt use.

Liquid deicers are one possible tool for some of our steep, paved roads to ensure that traffic is better able to navigate safely.  Liquid deicers work quickly and are especially useful for melting that last bit of snow or ice left after plows come through. While some express concerns with potential corrosion to vehicles, it’s good to know that many of these products include a corrosion inhibitor that make them up to 80 percent less corrosive than if rock salt had been applied.  Further, their application rates may contain less overall salt than if we make repeated applications of salt/sand, which is sometimes necessary.  All winter road treatments have a negative environmental component, including sand, so our goal is to consider the conditions and use the treatment that gives us the right level of service utilizing the least amount of product.

Reporting Road Concerns

On a final note, we’re really hoping residents will consider calling the Highway Department directly whenever you have a concern about road conditions this winter. Our number is 218-387-3014.  Even if you call after hours and leave a voicemail, it will be converted to email and sent directly to me. We request that you save calls to the sheriff’s department for emergency situations only, such as a road that is impassible or experiencing winter conditions far outside the norm.

While the highway department takes great pride in our winter maintenance work, we certainly can’t provide roads free from snow and ice around the clock.  Every winter storm brings with it considerations for staffing, safety and the environment; we strive to provide safe winter driving conditions through it all. But drivers play a role in that, too, so please make sure that your vehicle is equipped for winter driving and match your speed to the conditions on the road, not just the posted speed limit.

For more information on this and other county highway issues, visit the highway department page at on statewide road conditions is available on MnDOT’s 511 statewide travel and road condition site,

County Connections is a column on timely topics and service information from your Cook County government. Cook County – Supporting Community Through Quality Public Service