Pruning Willows Along Highway 30 Between Baker City and North Powder
By Jayson Jacoby
Baker County's abnormally arid January has had at least one benefit.
With no snow to plow, crews from the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) have been able to tackle the considerable task of trimming willow limbs that overhang Highway 30 between Baker City and North Powder and pose a potential hazard for travelers.
"If it's not snowing they'll be out there," said Brad Payton, who oversees ODOT's Baker City maintenance station. "Every year we whittle away at it, and with this kind of weather we're knocking out as much as we can."
Workers have been trimming, piling and hauling willow limbs along the 18-mile stretch of Highway 30 during the two-week dry spell.
Crews also have burned piles of limbs stacked in a gravel right-of-way just west of the highway where it enters North Powder.
Payton said the dozens of European golden willows that line the highway - mainly on the east side between Baker City and Haines - apparently were planted around World War II.
The concern, he said, is twofold.
First, overhanging limbs can fall on the highway.
Second, some limbs droop so low that semi truck trailers can smack into them.
ODOT crews pruned the trees several years ago, but now it's time to trim the small limbs that have grown since, Payton said.
The Baker City station has two five-person crews. One crew works Sunday through Wednesday, the other Wednesday through Saturday.
With temperatures rarely getting much above freezing the past two weeks, the job isn't exactly pleasant, Payton said.
"But it needs to be done," he said.
Crews will be working early this week between Wingville Road and Baker City.
The project is basically complete between Haines and North Powder, Payton said.
Workers might have to postpone the tree-trimming later in the week if a forecast storm materializes and brings freezing rain and snow starting late Tuesday.
As part of the project, ODOT also is testing a new flagging system for alerting drivers to the heavy equipment in the road (traffic delays are a few minutes at most).
The system includes a pair of bars - similar to the lighted arms at railroad crossings - that an employee can operate by remote control, Payton said.
The advantage is that a single employee can handle flagging chores rather than the usual two, which means one more person is available to help with the tree-trimming.
"We'll be testing it for a couple of weeks to see how we like it," Payton sai