Sheriff defends decision to rely on citizens’ common sense – not issue snow emergency


BG Independent News

Wood County Sheriff Mark Wasylyshyn is getting a flurry of complaints from local residents for not declaring any type of snow emergency after seven inches of snow covered the region on Saturday.

Huron, Wyandot and Ottawa counties declared Level 2 snow emergencies. Lucas, Henry, Seneca, Williams, Hancock, Putnam, Fulton, Sandusky, Erie and Defiance counties declared Level 1 snow emergencies. In the regional map of counties, Wood County stood out as the only with no cautionary measures issued by the sheriff.

The sheriff’s office has been fielding complaints about the issue the last two days.

“There have been so many phone calls,” Wasylyshyn said. “I have a rule in my office – to put calls through to my extension.” So the sheriff got to hear many of the complaints personally.

“I realize I’m not going to please everybody. Some want the roads closed if we get one inch of snow. Some don’t want the government to tell them when they can go out.”

Wasylyshyn said his frequent communications with road deputies and county snowplow crews over the weekend led him to the decision that there was no need to declare any level of snow emergency.

“We did have high winds, but we didn’t have the whiteout conditions,” he said.

There were no large drifts on major roadways, he added. And as the sheriff drove Ohio 25 between Bowling Green and Perrysburg, traffic was slow but steady.

“Do I close down the road when people are able to drive 45 mph?”

But why was Wood County the only in the region to not have a snow emergency declared? Wasylyshyn said other counties had other problems that contributed to their road issues. For example, Port Clinton had flooding conditions that contributed to problems. And Wyandot County’s snowplows shut down at midnight, he said.

“We’re lucky in Wood County,” the sheriff said. The county has 15 snowplows that work round the clock during bad weather.

But the bottom line for Wasylyshyn is that people need to use their own common sense before venturing outside in winter conditions.

“I trust that people will use their common sense and decide if they need to go where they want to go,” he said.

And for those people without common sense? Wasylyshyn suggested that people consult with the region’s meteorologists for updates.

Business concerns don’t influence the sheriff’s decisions, he said, since companies can stay open even during Level 3 declarations.

“I strongly believe in people’s right to go where they want to go if the roads are passable,” Wasylyshyn said.

Earlier today, Wasylyshyn issued a press release explaining his reasoning for not issuing a snow emergency.

“I should have done it this fall,” the sheriff said of the news release that reminds local residents of his interpretation of the snow emergency declarations. Following is his explanation:

Dear Citizens of Wood County,

I apologize for not putting out my stance on snow emergency levels in Wood County earlier.

I trust the citizens of Wood County to use common sense when driving. I also trust employers to use common sense on when they should close their businesses.

The local news stations do an excellent job of reporting road conditions. With the live video, latest radar and satellite images people can make very informed decisions whether they should travel. Numerous weather apps are also helpful.

The Ohio Revised code gives the Sheriff the authority to close the roads. The three levels are not in the law. Even though the levels are not part of the law the levels are often used for a major storm where the closing of the roads is likely. The intent of the levels is to allow people to prepare for potential closure of roads (level 1 or level 2) then the actual closure level 3. After the storm lessens and conditions get better the lower levels allow the citizens to know the roads are getting better. IF the storm is not intense enough that the likelihood of needing to close the roads there is not a need for the levels. The levels were NOT intended for every snow event.

During Saturday’s storm all of the main roads were passable by simply driving slower. We did not have whiteout conditions. My deputies were continually updating me. I personally went out multiple times throughout the snow event to check the road conditions. I also met with the county highway garage. The highway garage and my deputies believed that we would not need to close the roads for this storm.

We are very fortunate in Wood County that our highway garage plows snow 24/7 when needed. This is not the case with all counties. ODOT also had numerous plow trucks clearing their roads. In addition, all the cities, villages, townships have plows.

Of course, when main roads are not passable, or whiteout conditions exist or when ODOT, County Highway garage, or cities stop plowing due to poor conditions I will declare a level 3 and close all the roads.

I hope this clarifies my thought processes regarding snow level emergencies for the citizens of Wood County.

Wasylyshyn has defined snow emergencies by the following levels:

LEVEL I – SNOW ALERT: Roadways are hazardous with blowing and drifting snow. Roads may also be icy. Drive very cautiously.

LEVEL II – SNOW ADVISORY: Roadways are hazardous with blowing and drifting snow and or icy conditions. Only those who feel it is necessary to drive should be out on the roadways. Contact your employer to see if you should report to work.

LEVEL III – SNOW EMERGENCY: All Municipal, Township, County, State and US Routes in Wood County are closed to non-emergency personnel. No one should be out during these conditions. Those traveling on the roadways may subject themselves to arrest. All employees should contact their employer to see if they should report to work as only employees designated by their employer as essential may go to work and only if their route is passable.