Kittitas County: State DOT refused help in clearing roads

KITTITAS COUNTY, Wash. — After significant snowfall on Jan. 5-6 and a dayslong closure of Interstate 90 and Highway 97 in Kittitas County, efforts were underway to clear the roadways as the snow caused freight delays and other issues.

On Tuesday, the Kittitas County Department of Public Works said it offered to assist the Washington State Department of Transportation in clearing the roads but said the state refused its help due to the county not mandating COVID-19 vaccinations for its employees, according to a release from Kittitas County.

The county’s board of commissioners said it was “extremely disappointed with the state’s “position to refuse assistance.”

The release from the county said the state dismissed its unvaccinated employees from employment on Oct. 18, 2021, which resulted in 48 state employees who could no longer support “the State maintenance and snow removal efforts in Kittitas County.”

The county said it even signed an interlocal agreement with WSDOT that was requested by the state in identifying additional resources due to reduced staffing.

“During these times, we need to be able to put differences aside and work to support one another,” Commissioner Laura Osiadacz stated in the release. “It needs to be neighbors helping neighbors and lending a hand to get the work done.”

Commissioner Cory Wright said, “This county is ready, as always, to put all hands on deck to solve this problem. It’s time for logic and leadership to overcome ideology and allow skilled equipment operators working alone in their cabs to get this job done.”

“I’m extremely proud of the work being done by our Public Works Department to be able to clear roads and be in a place to be able to lend a helping hand to the State. It is unfortunate given the circumstances an agreement could not have come to fruition because we all want what is best for our community. At this time an agreement has not been reached,” Commissioner Brett Wachsmith stated.

In response to the report, WSDOT said after the massive snowfall and several days of continued avalanche dangers, crews were already working to clear and reopen the roads, and they had reopened Snoqualmie and Blewett passes on Sunday, Jan. 9.

WSDOT said the county reached out to them about clearing State Route 903 near the small town of Ronald, an unincorporated area in the county.

The county reportedly informed the state it could not meet the vaccination requirement in conjunction with the the interlocal agreements, and because of that, WSDOT said it secured a private contractor to help clear the roadways starting Jan.12.

WSDOT stated, “It’s important to note the work in Ronald couldn’t be accomplished with a large snowblower truck making a pass through town because of the vehicles and houses nearby. So, it took more people and vehicles to clear it section by section.”