Former garage in Vergas eyed for parking lot
By Robert Williams
Otter Tail County recently celebrated the opening of two new county highway garages in Pelican Rapids and Battle Lake last week. The garages replaced old and outdated facilities and combined the Vergas, Erhard, and Pelican Rapids shops to house the trucks in a modern facility.
According to Vergas EDA/HRA vice president Bruce Albright, the Vergas garage has been slated for demolition later this year and the space will be utilized to expand parking options downtown.
Parking was the top concern of Vergas area residents polled during the creation of the city’s new comprehensive plan in 2022.
“This has been an ongoing issue,” Albright said at the annual meeting of the Vergas Economic Development Authority (EDA)/Housing Redevelopment Authority (HRA) Tuesday, April 25. “We have people who have told us, ‘we don’t come to town Monday or Tuesday mornings because there’s no place to park.’ Especially if you’re handicapped. One of the things we will be looking at doing this summer, we now are the owners of the county garage. Last October, the council voted to make that a parking lot. That building will disappear here this summer and hopefully, become a paved parking lot at some point in time, but maybe not until 2024.”
Other options for more parking in Vergas are to potentially add more diagonal parking in town.
“We understand that parking is an issue here,” Albright said.
The older buildings became outdated as trucks became longer. In the older facilities, snow plow operators could not park the snowplows within the garages without taking off the plow first. The garage stalls simply were not long enough to accommodate the snowplows. After being removed from the trucks, snowplows were stored outdoors all winter.
Bruce Haugrud, a 26-year veteran of the Highway Maintenance Department, shared the process the snowplow operators had to go through to get the plows back on the truck and ready to plow snow.
“Many times, we needed to use a blow torch to heat up the connectors just to get the plow fittings together,” he said. “We had a garden hose to rinse the trucks outside and on many cold mornings we had to break ice off the trucks parked in the garage.”
The Pelican Rapids Highway Garage is 15,848 square feet with nine truck bays including one wash bay. The crews will cover the county’s northwest area for general highway maintenance such as repairing potholes, mowing, and culvert cleaning. Six snowplow routes will originate from the new facility. A new salt and sand storage shed is also located at the property.
“Having a wash bay to get the salt off the trucks is a needed update,” said Byron Zitzow, who worked in the Vergas Highway Garage for 18 years. “We used to have to wash our plow trucks off with a garden house. This will help to extend the life of the trucks too.”
The Battle Lake Highway Garage is 13,653 square feet and includes two bays for the county sign shop and five bays for highway maintenance including a wash bay. Two snowplow routes will originate from the facility. Ricky Swanberg, Lead Sign Technician, who has worked for the County for 41 years, remarked, “It’s a nice shop with lots of room to work and store signs.”
Cristi Field, Highway Maintenance Supervisor, shared the County’s appreciation for the new garages.
“On behalf of the staff, thank you county residents, and the Board of Commissioners for supporting these projects,” she said. “It is well overdue and much appreciated by operators who continue to provide vital services to the public.”