The Blaine County Regional Transportation Committee has sided with motorists in a dispute involving "tar-spotting" on vehicles during construction last month on state Highway 75 between Hailey and Ketchum.
"We strongly recommend that Knife River reconsider its position and compensate individuals for damage to their vehicles," Blaine County Commission Chair Angenie McCleary said Thursday.
McCleary, who also chairs the Transportation Committee, said the organization agreed on the statement following complaints by motorists at a meeting of the group Thursday morning.
Knife River Corp., the company contracted by the Idaho Transportation Department to put a new surface on the 10-mile stretch of highway, announced last week that it was not responsible for the damage and that neither the company nor its insurance carrier would compensate motorists.
According to ITD, the spotting occurred on Oct. 4 just north of Hailey when heavy rains became mixed with residues from the old highway surface after Knife River milled away the surface in preparation for laying new asphalt. ITD previously supported Knife River's position on the issue, but ITD District Engineer Devin Rigby said at Thursday's Transportation Committee meeting that the agency will investigate the issue further.
Several Blaine County residents attended the meeting to protest Knife River's denial of claims and to complain about Knife River's performance in other aspects of the construction process.
"I don't think the denial should be accepted by anyone, and if it comes down to a class action lawsuit, I'm all for it," said Hailey resident Don Leonard.
East Fork-area resident Larry Isham said his truck was one of "hundreds of cars" that were spotted with a tar-like substance on Oct. 4.
"I don't buy that it was old stuff that was stirred up," Isham said. "They should have detoured traffic. Somebody's not taking responsibility and not stepping up.
"This is about principle. We need some support from our commissioners and ITD because this just ain't right. They're denying the claims because it was an act of nature, an act of God, an act of Schoen or an act of Obama, whatever."
Isham was referring to Blaine County Commissioner Larry Schoen, with whom he said he had discussed the issue.
Schoen is not a representative on the Transportation Committee and did not attend Thursday's meeting. However, Commissioner Tom Bowman, also not on the committee, attended anyway and said his vehicle was also damaged.
Bowman cited an ITD statement issued last week regarding the spotting and stating that the damage is part of the "risk of driving in a construction zone."
"All I'm asking is that we do a little better job of communicating with the public when something like this happens," Bowman said.
Rod Kegley, president of the Coyote Bluff Homeowner's Association, complained that Knife River damaged a private road and signs to the subdivision by using the road without permission as a turnaround point for trucks.
"I made numerous attempts to contact ITD and Knife River and nobody returned a phone call," Kegley said.
Rigby said he would look into Kegley's complaint, and Knife River spokeswoman Pamela Link said in an interview later Thursday that Knife River was unaware of the issue.
"This is the first time we've heard about damage to an intersection and at this point we are contacting ITD to see what the complaint is," Link said.
Link further reiterated that the company did not put any asphalt on the highway the day spotting occurred.
"We did work that day and perhaps somebody assumed we were laying asphalt, but we did not lay down asphalt on that day," she said. "We did not negligently do something to cause this, and the Idaho Transportation Department has verified our position."
Rigby said motorists who disagree with Knife River's denial of claims can also file a claim with the Idaho State Department of Insurance.
In the meantime, though, Rigby said ITD has found a solvent that will safely clean the tar spots from vehicles and will give it away free to motorists.
In an interview later Thursday, ITD spokesman Nathan Jerke said the solvent is commercially available and called "Tarminator."
Jerke said ITD is providing Tarminator for free as a "goodwill gesture."
"This is what worked best on our own little test we did on our equipment," Jerke said. "It's safe to use on automobiles."
A few cases of Tarminator were delivered by ITD to Blaine County on Thursday.
McCleary said the solvent is available at the Operations Office on the second floor of the old Blaine County Courthouse. She said insurance forms are also available at the Operations Center for filing claims either with Knife River or the state of Idaho.
She pointed out that the highway work was not a county project, but said, "Blaine County is agreeable to providing the solvent because we want people to be able to get their cars clean."
In other developments, Rigby announced that Knife River has completed putting a new surface on the 10-mile stretch of highway, but has some odds and ends to finish, such as completing some of the highway approaches and "bump grinding" to smooth out uneven surfaces. He reiterated that Knife River will have to wait until next summer to put a micro-seal on most of the 10-mile stretch of road.
"There will be a short period of time when the final surface is put on it," Rigby said.
Terry Smith: email@example.com