By K C Pawling, Road Safety and Loss Prevention Specialist
It really seems that the last month and a half has been a challenge due to the weather. We have all seen the crop damage, structure damages and vehicle damages because of the storms that have become way too frequent by many people’s standards I’m sure.
With all the damages that have occurred, the cleanup activities take on a sense of urgency. Homesteads are needing cleaned, and we are also seeing center pivots that have been removed from the fields and relocated to some roadside ditches. With the relocation of center pivots and any tree debris that has been cleared, we need to remember that it can only be temporary situation.
I have been contacted recently about a County’s liability should a situation arise involving the structures and debris that are stored in the ditches along the roadsides. This is where things can get complicated, lest I say messy. As it is generally stated, the storing of center pivots and debris should be a temporary situation. With that being said, it can easily start to look like a more permanent situation rather than temporary. When this happens, this is where you as a county need to make sure that you are trying to mitigate your County’s potential liability.
I would first begin by making sure that any of the center pivot structures in the road ditches are marked adequately with the appropriate barricades. Secondly, you should within a reasonable amount of time draft a letter and send it to landowners notifying them that the structures should be removed as soon as possible. Make them aware that if a traffic incident occurs involving those structures, that not only can the county be held liable for any damage that occurs, but so can they. As always, you should meet with your County Attorney and discuss how to handle these situations. Allow your County Attorney the opportunity to help you draft a letter for the landowner notification.
Situations like these following natural disaster events are tough to handle. While you are trying to be sympathetic to the landowner’s involvement with the event and damages that have occurred, you also need to manage the situation for the County’s best interest. Again, we need to make sure that everyone makes it home at night.