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Harford residents struggle to keep 'earth roads' in shape

Street resident Bruce Kabernagel lives on an unpaved county road that he said is literally falling apart. He also said it's an unlikely candidate for being paved any time soon, but considering the historic value of his neighborhood, he wouldn't live anywhere else.

Kabernagel, 72, has lived along his section of Rocks Station Road, which is tucked away in the woods off Route 24 (Rocks Road) near Rocks State Park, for 16 years.

His home is one of four along the unpaved road, which he said in a telephone interview last week "is in fairly decent shape," but residents have had to deal with an eroding section of road parallel to Gladden Branch, a tributary of Deer Creek, as well as regular potholes, many of them developing as a result of this winter's regular snow storms.

The road, like the other 45.86 miles of "earth roads," is maintained by the Harford County Department of Public Works.

Repairs of earth roads, the county's term for unpaved roads in residential and agricultural areas, typically take place when residents alert DPW.

"Anything you want done on this road, you have to fight for it," Kabernagel said. "Routine maintenance is non-existent and always has been."

He moved there from Baltimore County and he said last week that there are historical structures nearby, including a former hotel and railroad station that made up a stop along the former Ma & Pa Railroad.

"This is exactly what I want," Kabernagel exclaimed. "I worked hard all my life at Bethlehem Steel, and when I found this place, I said, 'This is it; this is what I want.' "

He said he has filled potholes himself along the 800 to 1,000 feet of road in front of his property.

"It's just constant up here, but I wouldn't trade it for nothing," he said.

Another county resident, Mary Harting, of White Hall, has also been frustrated with the condition of her earth road.

"It's a situation where you pay your county taxes and you don't have a passable road to drive on," Harting said. She lives on Hitchcock Road, a little more than a mile east of the intersection of Ayres Chapel Road and Route 23 (Norrisville Road).

Her home, which her parents built during the early 1980s, is one of six residences on the unpaved portion of Hitchcock Road.

Harting spoke to The Aegis in early March and sent in a photo of road that appeared to be only mud, which has been a liability during the winter weather.

"This road has either been covered with ice or it's been a mudhole," she said.

Harting's community was thawing out from a recent snow and cold spell, "so it's mud and gullies," she explained.

"Your car is a mess, and sometimes you get stuck," she said.

Harting said drivers risk sliding on the ice during the winter, and have to deal with a washed-out road caused by thunderstorms during the summer.

She said she also has to call the county to get repairs made, and public works crews come out "a couple times a year."

"When I tell them what the condition is, they will come out – when weather permits – to grade it," she said.

Harting said she has been petitioning county officials to have the road paved, but has been told there is no money in the budget to pave earth roads.

"It's so much work to maintain it this way," she said.

Kenny Gemmill, chief of highways for the county, said public works crews were patching the earth roads "by hand" during March, and that they must wait for the roads to dry out to bring in heavy equipment to grade the roads.

He said crews have been using CR8 stone material to fill the holes in the roads, and once dry weather comes along "we're going to have our graders and rollers and our dump trucks out there taking care of them."

He said during an interview in late March that crews had been doing earth road maintenance projects, but the roads were still too wet for heavy equipment.

Crews were also occupied with snow removal during an early-spring storm that took place March 25.

"This has just added to it," he said the next day about the snow. "With this extra snow it's made them damp again."

The nearly 46 miles of earth roads are part of a 1,058.28-mile inventory of roads maintained by the county, according to Gemmill.

He said the county has a program regarding getting earth roads paved, called the Earth Road Conversion Program. Residents can file a petition with the county to get their earth road paved.

Gemmill noted it has been several years, however, since an earth road was paved because the funds are not available.

Residents can still file petitions, however; they can call the county's Highways Department, 410-638-3533, for more information on filing a petition or to report an issue with a road, whether paved or unpaved.

"We are going out," he said. "We are responding to the citizens who are requesting service."

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