NDOT meets with council to discuss possible roundabout

WINNEMUCCA — While everyone agreed something should be done with the intersection of Bridge and Haskell Streets, neither residents nor the Winnemucca City Council thought that “something” should be a roundabout.

Having met with representatives of the Nevada Department of Transportation on Tuesday (Jan. 10), at least members of the council are beginning to think it’s not such a bad idea.

Subject to accidents and congestion, the intersection has long been a problem.  The City of Winnemucca offered to install a traffic light, at its own expense, but the street is technically in the jurisdiction of the state, whose engineers preferred a roundabout.

Addressing the council was Randy Hesterlee, the assistant district engineer, who explained while the state’s analysis concluded action should be taken at the intersection – they weren’t convinced that meant the installation of a traffic light.

The goal of Nevada’s Strategic Highway Safety Plan was to reduce crashes, he pointed out, and to that end a roundabout was the better choice.

The council had multiple concerns with the roundabout including: pedestrian safety, high foot traffic from the nearby Winnemucca Jr. High School, concern the roundabout would be too small because it’s boxed in by private property, and has railroad tracks nearby.

Hesterlee addressed each concern.

The obvious benefit of a roundabout, he said, is that it slows traffic.  Even if there is a little fender bender, the folks exchange paint and go home.  That’s in stark contrast to at least three recent accidents in which passing cars on Bridge Street were T-boned by cars on Haskell Street crossing Bridge.

In places that have roundabouts, there are fewer and less-serious crashes.

Hesterlee showed photos to illustrate why roundabouts are actually safer for pedestrians.  He pointed out at a traditional crosswalk pedestrians have multiple lanes of traffic to cross, but a roundabout offers a single lane of travel to cross before a refuge then another lane of travel to cross before safety.

Plus, traffic is moving slower through the roundabout, which increases pedestrian safety, and motorists are more likely to see pedestrians they’re approaching at a curve, as opposed to those standing at a sharp 90 degree angle.

As an example, Hasterlee told the council of an intersection by a school in Vermont where there was a significant number of vehicle v’s pedestrian accidents a year.  They put in a roundabout at that intersection and there hasn’t been a single pedestrian accident in seven years.

While the council was concerned the roundabout would have to be small, as the intersection is boxed in by private property, and therefore could not handle the large trucks (sometimes with one or two trailers in tow), Hesterlee was able to demonstrate the roundabout would be a size appropriate for large trucks.

Trucks with trailers actually turn into a circle easier than some other vehicles, such as fire trucks.

Hasterlee showed a video clip of a fire truck maneuvering a roundabout by simply driving over the curb and up onto  the center circle.  The roundabout is actually designed to allow large public safety  vehicles to do just that, he said.

He also assured the council there would be space for vehicles to pull over for passing public safety vehicles.

One of the concerns NDOT had was the proximity of the railroad tracks to the intersection.  They didn’t want to a situation where a car was backed up onto the tracks with the possibility of a train coming along.

However, NDOT’s study of the intersection showed cars were only backed up an average 130 feet – even at peak hours.  The railroad track signal is 200 feet from the intersection.

While NDOT was able to demonstrate the safety of a roundabout, the cost was no advantage.

NDOT estimated the price at about $1.8 million over the estimated $359,000 a traffic light would cost.

Hasterlee explained the price was high because it was better to put everything in and estimate high as opposed to estimating low and finding themselves without enough money for the project.

The City of Winnemucca has $350,000 to put towards the project; the rest will be paid for by the state.

Hasterlee also said the roundabout would be cheaper to maintain in the long run than the traffic light.

The meeting between the Council and NDOT was informational only and no action was taken.

Councilman Rich Stone concluded the meeting by recommending a training session for locals who may not be used to roundabouts.

Hasterlee was joined at the meeting by Kevin Lee, District III Engineer, and Dave Lindeman, District III Assistant Engineer, of the Winnemucca Office.

TG Sheppard goes to bat for First Amendment as Free Speech is kicked to the curb in Winnemucca

WINNEMUCCA — Two young political organizers from California with no place to exercise their First Amendment right to Free Speech were given sanctuary on the private property of local businessman TG Sheppard Wednesday (Aug. 4) afternoon.

The young men started out campaigning under the trees in front of the US Post Office but were told they had to leave – reportedly by the Postmaster herself. The young man in the photo said they were informed they could not campaign on federal property.

The two organizers moved their operation to the sidewalk at the corner of Grass Valley Rd. and Hanson St.– where they were confronted by a Winnemucca Police Department officer in the afternoon.

The officer told them they would have to move because they were creating a traffic hazard as people slowed down to look at their signs. Fair enough.

However, the officer went on to say the organizers would not be allowed to campaign on public property anywhere within the city limits. He said they would have to find a private property owner and get permission to campaign on his or her property.

This caused the young man shown in the photo to observe, “If you’re not a private property owner you don’t have Freedom of Speech in Winnemucca.”

The two young men were Democrats with the Summer Shields campaign. Mr. Shields is the Democratic write-in candidate running against Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi in California’s 8th District. The two organizers were in rural Nevada raising money for the candidate.

The young men were advised by the officer to seek permission from TG Sheppard to campaign on his private property. Sheppard’s offices are directly across from the corner they were being shooed away from. The officer did not say how they would be less of a traffic hazard across the street.

Mr. Sheppard, who’s not generally known for being a friend of Democratic Party candidates, stood up for Free Speech and the First Amendment and gave his permission for the two men to continue campaigning on his private property.

SPJ was on present during a part of the exchange between the organizers and the WPD officer. On Wednesday (Aug. 4) SPJ requested a copy of the city ordinance that prohibits campaigning on public property, but have not yet received it. The request was made to City Manager Steve West who said he would contact City Attorney Kent Maher.

If, in fact, it’s against city ordinance to campaign on public property law enforcement should be aware of several law breakers. On the Fourth of July, in Paul Vesco Park, which is city property, Humboldt County District Attorney Russell Smith and Humboldt County Sheriff Ed Kilgore were each campaigning – apparently in violation of city ordinance.

Also, in 2008 the candidates for district court judge campaigned in the same location and Judge Michael Montero was present and campaigning. Come to think of it, Winnemucca City Councilman Paige Brooks was campaigning there, as well.

There were many witnesses to this apparent criminal activity.

The young man in the photo said when they arrived in town they checked in with the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office and the Sheriff’s Office Dispatch and advised them of their purpose in town. They also met with a WPD officer earlier in the day, he continued, and advised the officer of their purpose.

That officer must not have been aware of the city ordinance against Free Speech on public property because he did not advise them to find private property. Or, in the alternative, perhaps the ordinance didn’t become law until later in the afternoon.

Perhaps the actual ordinance prohibiting Free Speech on public property within the city limits can shine some light on this issue. If it ever arrives.

Golf cart owner wants reward offered for arrest of culprits; council changes policy for shed keys

WINNEMUCCA — One of the victims of this past weekend’s golf cart vandalism went before the Winnemucca City Council on Tuesday (July 13) to offer up a reward for the culprits – and challenged the council to meet the amount.

Shelley Kyllo’s golf cart was vandalized – probably beyond repair – after unknown suspects played bumper cars with it then submerged it into the pond at the golf course. Kyllo purchased the cart last year for $3,800. It saw one season. Authorities believe the vandalism occurred either Saturday night (July 10) or early Sunday morning (July 11).

Kyllo said she was willing to put up $500 for the arrest of the culprits and asked the council to meet her offer.

However, the council could take no action because the request was not agendized.

Meanwhile, the damage at the golf course may be greater than originally thought. In addition to the five carts removed from the shed, which were heavily damaged or totaled from being submerged in the pond, three in the shed were also vandalized. The damage estimate was $10,000 – $15,000.

At issue for security at the golf course were the keys for the storage sheds that are issued to the golf cart owners so they can have flexible access to their carts.

Authorities believe whoever was responsible for the vandalism probably had a key to the shed – though there was some disagreement about that at the council meeting.

Golf pro Michael A. Kieser, who was on-hand for the discussion said, “There’s too many keys and too many problem kids.”

The council instructed Kieser to change the locks on the sheds but not to issue duplicates to the cart owners. On the council’s instruction, only Kieser and the greenskeeper, Jake Weber, will have keys. Cart owners will have access to their carts after Weber arrives in the morning, approximately 6 a.m., until Kieser leaves for the day, approximately 9 p.m.

The council intends to have security at the golf course as an agendized item at their next meeting. Among the possible items up for discussion will be security alarms on the sheds.

Also up for discussion will be tightened restrictions concerning the age limit for young people driving carts on the golf course. The rule is supposed to be a young person must have a driver’s license in order to operate a cart on the course; however, those present reported careless and/or reckless driving on the course by those who looked too young to have a driver’s license. The golf pro may revoke driving privileges on the golf course if he determines the carts are being driven in an inappropriate manner.

Young people are not actually required to have a driver’s license if they’re driving a cart at the course as part of their employment duties.

HGH prepared to send expansion out to bid

WINNEMUCCA — The expansion of Humboldt General Hospital is about to enter the first phase, so Hospital Administrator Jim Parrish and Peggy Lindsey, who’s in charge clinics and physician recruitment, went before local governing boards to update representatives on the project and to answer questions.

The $10 million expansion will go out to bid next week and Hospital Board Trustees may open bids by the end of May. Parrish said the architect has already received phone calls from potential contractors across the western US.  It’s a good time for the project, he added, because current construction costs are low.

The expansion will add some much-needed physician office space, a walk-in clinic, and a waiting area for the doctor’s offices. The project may take as long as two years to complete.

On the backburner are $980,000 in improvements that may or may not go, which includes a remodel of the storage area and a fitness center for HGH employees.

The walk-in clinic received very positive feedback as it’s expected to reduce some of the traffic through ER from folks who need basic medical care but who don’t have personal physicians or whose personal physicians can’t accommodate an appointment right away.

Parrish noted if a person has a sore throat that may be strep-related, the person could go to the walk-in clinic for a basic test and prescription, and it will cost significantly less than an ER visit.

Parrish said he anticipates the clinic will have basic, fixed pricing for walk-in services.

During Tuesday’s meeting of the Winnemucca City Council, Paige Brooks questioned whether or not the hospital would be able to accommodate more patients in  the hospital or seniors for assisted living.

Parrish replied in the negative but followed up and reminded the council this is just the first of what is expected to be a three-phase expansion and there will be other considerations down the road towards issues such as expanded senior-living.

HGH is currently licensed to have 22 patient beds and as a Critical Access Hospital are limited to 28 beds.  HGH averages about seven to eight patients in-hospital, he said.

The real change with patient rooms will be the transition from semi-private rooms to private rooms.  There are many reasons this, not the least of which was more stringent sanitation considerations and federal legislation that protects patient’s privacy.

Parrish said the additional physician-office space has long been the goal of the Hospital Board and the community with the goal of retaining physicians long term.

Parrish assured representatives that taxes would not be raised as a result of the expansion.  Because they realized a need for expansion for more than a decade, they’ve been tucking money away and currently have about $28 million on hand.

However, the $28 million is not reserved entirely for expansion because hospitals must keep cash in reserves.  Currently they have enough cash on hand to keep the hospital going for 393 days – more than a year — without any revenue.  They’re goal is to reserve 225 days worth of cash-on-hand, but the US average is 110 days.

Whether they’ll pay for the entire expansion with cash and risk depleting resources, or whether the expansion will be paid for with a bond, has not been decided.

Mayor Di An Putnam asked if the expansion would represent additional job-opportunities locally for subcontractors, but that is unknown.  City Attorney Kent Maher explained there were a limited number of contractors who could be bonded for this amount, which did not include any local contractors, and the contractors hire their subcontractors.

There may be some inconvenience for people coming to use the hospital but staff will work to mitigate those inconveniences and thoughtful consideration will be given to the safety of the public, Parrish said.