Should drought increase need for mowing on shoulders?

The in basket: Christina  Stewart asks, “Can anyone tell me if the county is out in their area actively mowing the sides of the road? With the fire danger off the charts, shouldn’t (they be) mowing down all the dry grass and weeds next to the county roads? I just drove in to work today up Columbia Street (Port Gamble-Suquamish Rd.) and then into Poulsbo on Lincoln. The grass is taller than most vehicles in some areas. Yesterday I was in the Kingston area, same issue. We are creating our own potential safety problem! The county should be mowing all day everyday.”

The out basket: Actually, mowing can start grass fires as well as prevent them, and leave cut grass slightly more likely to burn,.

Practices vary among jurisdictions, but since Christina asks about the North Kitsap area, I’ve limited my inquiries to Kitsap County, the state and Poulsbo.

I asked their normal practices and whether the heat and lack of rain has changed them this year.

Jacques Dean, road superintendent for the county, said on July 7″, “We have not made any changes to our vegetation management program. Our mower in the north end has been unavailable due to mechanical problems, which has put us behind schedule there.  We were waiting for parts to make repairs. It is back in operation now. We do mow all day, every day during the growing season when equipment is available.

 

“Our vegetation mowers operate five days a week over eight months per year (vegetation is generally dormant November through February).  With this approach we have been able to mow 1,900 shoulder miles of roadway each year, or approximately 950 centerline miles. We are able to mow most, if not all of our roadways at least once per year.  It should also be noted that our crews apply vegetation herbicides to approximately 840 shoulder miles of roadway each year, which assists in keeping vegetation in check.

 

Logistically, and realistically, we cannot address all of our roadways simultaneously, specifically during the peak of the growing season.  We have to take a systematic approach to our vegetation management program, considering the overall scope of work, available schedule, resource availability, roadway level of service, types of vegetation, geographic location/proximity, etc.  Our crews are working hard to ensure that our roadways are safe, in good condition, and aesthetically pleasing.  They are doing the best possible job.”

Claudia Bingham Baker, state highway spokesman here, said, “When conditions get extremely dry we stop most mowing activities. This link http://wsdotblog.blogspot.com/2015/07/working-to-prevent-roadside-brush-fires.html talks about our efforts to reduce the risk of fires.”

That site says, in part, “Every year, we do most of our mowing in early spring or late fall to avoid the hot, dry summer season. We also leave bare ground barriers alongside roadways in many cases to provide extra protection against sparks and other fire risks. This year is no different.

“That said, some of our maintenance work can’t wait, often because to do so would comprise motorist safety. And work like mowing, grinding or welding carry some inherent risks of sparks that could lead to a fire.

That’s why whenever we complete maintenance work during the dry season we take several precautions. That includes having water and tools on site to immediately extinguish any sparks or fires that start due to our work.

We also limit our maintenance work during the hottest part of the day. Work is done from 8 p.m. to 1 p.m., when it’s more humid and less likely for a fire to start. If weather conditions are particularly severe, everything except emergency work is halted.”

Dan Wilson, head of Poulsbo Public Works, says he isn’t sure that Christina got into the city, but if she did, he thinks she would have found the city’s shoulders well tended by their mostly hand-done streetside brush clearing.

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