As the Harrison County Commissioners Court gauge priorities for the road and bridge department for the upcoming budget season, Pct. 1 County Commissioner William Hatfield is making a plea to help roads in his precinct maintain their stability.
“There are 739 miles of county road. I’ve got 258 of those miles; I’ve got 34 percent of the county roads. All of my roads are getting destroyed,” Hatfield said as he addressed fellow court members and County Engineer John Paul Jones during a second budget workshop Wednesday. The riddled roads are due to the heavy traffic of the oil and gas industry.
“I’ve sat in this chair for six years, five months and 26 days and every road I’ve ever built, except the one that’s in Caddo where there’s no oil traffic, they’ve got the top torn off of it,” said Hatfield. “I cannot tell y’all how bad I’m getting hammered by what’s going on with the construction down there, and I have got to have some help.”
The commissioner said he wants to continue representing his precinct.
“I want to stay in this seat again. And the public doesn’t care what we’re doing up here with a $28 million budget,” said Hatfield. “They don’t care what’s going on with the 300 employees and what we do and the fact that we’ve not raised taxes and the fact that this court is a very frugal court.
“All they care about is their front-end getting (beat up) and their vehicles and their kids driving fast on county roads that are bad,” he said.
“I have got to have some help,” he reiterated. “I mean that, guys.”
Demetria McFarland, a resident off Blocker Road, which is in Hatfield’s precinct, is one of many residents who have called his office frustrated about the conditions of the rocky roads.
While trailing behind her husband on their way home recently, the journey in her new Impala was stalled by a nearly 16-pound chunk of asphalt.
“We stay on the south part of Blocker when you cross over 2625,” said McFarland. “It’s just a lot of big potholes down there on Blocker Road.
“My husband drives an Avalanche truck, he was able to basically dodge the rock; but when I saw it, the first thing I thought was the way it was sitting I couldn’t straddle it, so I went to dodge it,” she said. “The car sits low, and when I went to dodge it, the rock caught my front passenger tire and it made a real loud sound.”
She said the encounter made such a big impact that it disconnected her cell phone that was plugged in her car.
“I was talking to someone on the phone through my Apple car play and it disconnected it, and I’m like: ‘Oh my God, I have torn my car up,’” McFarland recalled. “And that was one of the concerns I had.”
The experience made her livid.
“I was very upset because number one, I know that my taxpayer dollars go towards not only paying for the workers of Harrison County road and bridge but also the infrastructure in regards to what needs to be done on our public roadways; and you know my husband bought the car for me a couple of years ago, brand new …” said McFarland. “To hit something like that, I don’t want to have a car that’s nice and now torn all up because I hit a rock in the middle of Blocker Road.
“It was pieces of asphalt that was breaking away from a hole that they had repaired previously,” she said.
Concerned about what potential damage could’ve happened to her vehicle, McFarland reached out to Harrison County Judge Chad Sims to address the road conditions.
“I told him I had hit a big rock on Blocker Road, about a mile south of (Farm-to-Market Road) 2625,” said McFarland. “I said we’re playing ‘dodge-a-hole’ going down Blocker Road. It’s frustrating that it’s to the point where if we’re in a certain section of Blocker Road, we literally have to wait until the other vehicles pass by that’s oncoming traffic in order for us to get on the part of the road that is still paved, so to speak.”
“I was still concerned what might have happened in regards to my alignment or any damage that might have happened up underneath it because of the fact that it was just such a big impact,” she said. “It sounded like a big boom. It sounded as if I had fallen off in a ditch or something. The sound was so loud.”
McFarland said the county judge was very apologetic and contacted the appropriate parties to address the repairs.
“He did, because the next day they took the orange paint, sprayed it around the hole and marked it to be repaired. The next day they put in some type of fill inside the hole where you’re actually able now to drive over it,” said McFarland.
McFarland said she’s happy that the repairs were made, but is still concerned about the overall conditions of the road and the potential impact it’ll have on cars as well as potential expense that driver’s may possibly incur to fix the car damage. She said she noticed later the impact from the rock had loosened the interior in the area between her back doors and her back window.
“Both sides are loose,” she said, sharing how heated she is.
“We’re literally zigzagging having to dodge holes where stuff has broken off from the road. I’m glad I didn’t blow out that tire,” she said. “It’s just frustrating. Why do I have to dodge holes going home?”
Hatfield told commissioners and road and bridge staff that he’s getting complaints all the time for the conditions of the roads in his precinct, and it’s frustrating for all. He urged them to take a drive on the roads on the weekend to witness what he’s dealing with.
“Please, take time to go for a drive and (ride) in the Elysian Fields, Waskom area,” the commissioner said. “Just pick any county road, and go down it and you would understand what I am having to go through.”
Hatfield said that majority of the letters that the county sent out, seeking approximately $600,000 in road damage funds from oil and gas companies who have impaired the county’s roads with their heavy equipment, were for roads that are in Precinct 1.
“To give you an idea of how much damage that is, we’re only able to bill them $600,000 in material, so you got to figure labor, equipment and everything else in there,” he said. “So that’s a bunch of money to be spent.”
Hatfield said the problem is they repair the roads and the heavy oil and gas traffic tears them up again. Pct. 4 Commissioner Jay Ebarb, who has accompanied Hatfield before on the roads, echoed his sentiments.
“In some cases since I’ve sat here, we’ve built some roads down there within the last four years in Precinct 1 and rebuilt sections of roads and now less than four years later, the roads that we rebuilt they’re already torn up,” Ebarb observed. “I mean, somehow instead of making process, we’re backing up. He just happens to have the precinct that’s got the activity.”
Ebarb said the county is not against the activity because it brings in revenue, but Precinct 1 is just a hotbed for activity right now.
Ebarb shared he’s disturbed by the fact that they can’t collect enough money from the oil and gas companies to repair the damage the activity has caused.
“These companies come in here and they build better roads from the property line to location than what our roads are, and they hold up because they know that they can’t make money unless they can get their trucks and tankers in there to pick product up; and then they come out on our stuff that’s not designed for the traffic that it’s got and tear ours up and pay about 10 cents on the dollar,” said Ebarb. “It doesn’t make sense to me.”
Hatfield said the conditions are so bad that he especially gets chewed out every time the county reveals its summer road construction plan for the season. He shared how upset constituents get when they don’t see their road included in the road plan repairs.
Thus, “next year, I don’t want any precinct 1 road to be on there. I want to put precinct 1 to be determined, because all I can do right now is damage control,” Hatfield told the county engineer.
“I am not going to be able to build a road,” he added. “All I am going to do is try to keep people from driving in the ditches, try to keep these roads open when schools start for our school buses to go down it and so the postal office can deliver.
“Right now I’ve got people driving in ditches that are smoother than roads are and I’ve got to have some help,” Hatfield begged.
The commissioner said he’s going to try to do the best he can as he does every year, but combating the oilfield traffic has been challenging. Hatfield said a license and weights officer or patrol person may be the solution.
“One of the things that Judge Sims and I have talked about and couple of other guys I’ve talked to, one of the things that we want to budget for this year is that we want to have a vehicle …. we need somebody out there that’s working these overloaded trucks, checking these permits, these trucks speeding and going on and I would like to ask your support,” said Hatfield. “I’ve talked to Sheriff McCool and he’s on-board with it. But we want to buy somebody a vehicle and give somebody a badge and a gun and put them out there and put them to work.”
Jones, the county engineer, said that could be a feasible solution.
“That would be one of the most critical things that we can do not only for the whole county, but your precinct in particular,” Jones told Hatfield.
Jones said when the oil business was booming a few years ago, the county had a license and weights officer that monitored the area and made sure that the county collected the road damage money that was billed to the oil and gas companies.
“Having him out there and them knowing it makes a big, big difference,” said Jones.