Commissioners address mowing at county covered bridges
Addressing what one Commissioner dubbed “Grass Debacle 2021,” the tall grass and weeds around Putnam County covered bridges will soon be tamed.
Commissioner President Rick Woodall admitted Monday that he had not previously put a lot of thought into how the county took care of grass maintenance around the nine covered bridges in its care.
A combination of the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office road crew and the Putnam County Highway Department simply took care of it.
That has changed in 2021.
“This year, nobody’s doing it,” Woodall said.
A quick drive past Houck Covered Bridge on County Road 550 South in Washington Township early this week confirmed this, as the grass between the historic bridge and the modern bypass bridge installed several years ago had clearly been untouched for the season.
However, it’s a problem to varying degrees at all of the county’s nine covered bridges.
Both the Putnam County Highway Department and Putnam County Sheriff’s Office cited a lack of manpower to take care of the mowing.
Sheriff Scott Stockton said without the money the county formerly received for housing Department of Correction inmates, the county now only has one road crew supervisor, who is part time with maxed-out hours
Stockton mentioned that the Putnam County Convention and Visitors Bureau had previously had a line item for mowing around the bridges, but this is no longer the case.
Woodall said he had talked to CVB Director Eric Freeman who said that, yes, the CVB markets those bridges, but does not own them. The line item has been eliminated in recent years.
As such, Freeman and Woodall called around for quotes to first knock down the tall grass, then keep the grass maintained for the rest of 2021 at all of the bridges.
Newgent Lawncare Service of Greencastle submitted a quote of $4,285, which includes the initial cleanup and then mowing every other week through late October.
Green Street Maintenance of Fillmore submitted a bid of $11,500 to do the initial cleanup and then monthly maintenance through October.
After talking to his board, Freeman told Woodall that, assuming the county went with the low bid from Newgent, if the county would pay $3,000, the CVB would pay the remaining $1,285.
At this point in the discussion, Woodall asked if there was a chance of finding the money to hire another part-time road crew supervisor and have inmates do the mowing.
“There’s no way the sheriff’s department can hire another supervisor for that kind of money,” Commissioner Dave Berry responded.
Rather than talk much longer, fellow Commissioner Tom Helmer said something should be done soon.
“Being that it’s June already, I think we need to take care of it,” Helmer said.
Woodall made the motion to hire Newgent Lawncare for the job. All three commissioners gave their approval.
The money will come from the highway department covered bridge fund.
Further down the road, other solutions may be possible. County Council President Dave Fuhrman, in the audience on Monday, floated the idea of an “adopt-a-bridge” program through which businesses or organizations might care for the grounds surrounding one of the nine bridges.
Additionally, it was noted that the county is in the planning stages of starting a park board, which would oversee such matters.
While the county does not own any parks, as such, the idea of a board has been discussed in recent months since the county took possession of the People Pathways system in the county.
Management of the pathways has transferred to the CVB, but the county is formally the owner.
In looking for ways to fund further pathways or improve those in existence, the county and CVB could seek funds from the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. However, such DNR funds are only available to entities with an established park board.
A park board would consist of appointments by the Putnam County Commissioners, Putnam County Council and county judges.
Freeman plans to appear before the County Council at its monthly meeting on Tuesday, June 15 to discuss the matter further.