Every Day is Different for LPA Operations Supervisor

By Susan Thompson

Mike Monthei has been on the Lake Panorama Association staff since 1999. In his first years with the LPA, he was erosion control supervisor and the back-up dam operator. Monthei was promoted to LPA operations supervisor seven years ago. In this month’s Q&A, he answers questions about LPA operations.

Q. First, give us an overview of the types of things you and your staff are responsible for throughout the year.

A. You name it, we do it. We handle the road system, including snow plowing in the winter and applying a sand and salt mix as needed. We do repairs to the roads and shoulders, and prep the roads each summer for seal coating. We also handle mowing at the beaches, common areas, roadsides and sediment basins.

On the lake, I oversee the dredging operation, work on drainage and erosion issues, and debris cleanup. This includes clearing debris from the trap at the mouth of the lake after a heavy rain, and chasing down debris that gets beyond the trap. We also put all the docks at the three beaches in each spring and remove each fall, and switch out the buoys on the lake in spring and fall.

Something relatively new added to our list of responsibilities is maintenance related to the new wetlands built to protect the lake from runoff water. There is mowing and spraying to be done, and sediment forebays to be cleaned. We also handle maintenance on all the sediment basins located around the lake, which hold dredged material from the lake.

Equipment and building maintenance is a big job for us. We handle maintenance on all the equipment owned by the LPA, including mowers, security trucks, the dredge, dump trucks, snowplows and more. We also handle maintenance and repairs on all LPA buildings and facilities. This includes the Lake Panorama National conference center and Panorama West community building, the LPA office, the water plant, boat storage buildings and the marina.

We help the LPA water department with water leaks and digs. And if LPA security gets a call about a dead deer in someone’s yard, we’re the ones to pull it out. We have five full-time employees who work year-round. In the spring, two people who run the dredge and one person to mow are added, and work full-time for nine months.

Q. How has the 2017-2018 winter been in terms of keeping the LPA roads clear? 

A. We haven’t had a lot of big snowstorms to deal with, but we’ve had lots of one-inch accumulations that can cause slick conditions. We mix sand and salt to spread on the roads, and we used about 500 ton this winter, which is pretty close to normal.

Our policy is to get the roads cleared first thing in the morning, and then hit them again late afternoon, so people can get to and from work, and kids can get to and from school. We clear parking lots once we’re done with the roads. Depending on the conditions, we’ll get started sometime between 4:30 a.m. and 6 a.m. If we just need to get some sand and salt down at stop signs, we’ll start around 6 a.m. If we have a lot of snow to plow, we start earlier. In the late afternoons, we might work until 7 p.m. We don’t run trucks on the road later in the evening and overnight.

We have five trucks with blades we can use, all with sanders on the back. If the snow is fairly light, we use pickup trucks, because we found the larger dump trucks were damaging the roads. But if we have a 12-inch snow, we have to use the big trucks and blades.  

Q. Tell us about roadside maintenance.

A. This is typically something we do during the “off” season. We didn’t get quite as much of this work done this winter as some years. To be safe, we don’t run chainsaws or the chipper when there is snow or ice underfoot. Now that the embargo is on, we can’t run the trucks we need for this work. We obey the embargo, just like everyone else, unless there is an emergency.

The idea is to cut down trees or remove overhanging branches that reduce visibility. In some ditches we’re more aggressive, because we need to eliminate some of the cover that allows deer to come up out a ditch quickly without being seen. Sometimes we also will take out vegetation so the road can get more sunlight, which helps these areas dry out more quickly.

Q. A new beach groomer was added to your maintenance arsenal in 2016. How has that made your job easier?

A. It’s a great improvement and I appreciate the LPA board giving us the right equipment to do our job. The groomer picks up rocks, sticks, goose manure, cigarette butts and other garbage. In the past we pulled a harrow around on the beaches, and while that smoothed out the sand, all that stuff was still there. Now we’re actually picking it up.

The groomer is pulled behind a Kubota tractor we already owned. Tines attached to a moving belt dig four-inches deep into the sand and pull items up the belt where they drop into a hopper, with any sand dropping back to the ground. The process cleans, aerates, rakes and levels the sand. Once the hopper is filled, it can be lifted hydraulically and emptied at one of the yard waste locations or into a dump truck.

It takes us about three hours to do all three beaches, with a lot of that time spent pulling the groomer behind the tractor to the beaches. We’ll start using the rake this spring soon after the docks are back in the water. The beaches are cleaned weekly, generally on Fridays so they are in good shape for the weekend. When the goose population increases, some weeks we will hit the beaches a second time.  

Q. The idea of constructing a new maintenance building is being discussed by the LPA board. What are the shortcomings of the current building?

A. We’ve simply outgrown the current maintenance building. If there is snow in the forecast, we need to have all our trucks inside so they are warm and will operate properly. But that fills the space, so we can’t do our usual winter work of repairing and doing preventative maintenance on other vehicles and pieces of equipment.

The roof leaks. It’s been repaired once, but is leaking again. Now the engineers tell us it’s not safe for someone to go up on the roof to attempt any additional repairs.

The current building has served its purpose. It was built in 1973, when the LPA didn’t have nearly as much equipment or employees. Now we have multiple mowers, trucks, trailers and boats that we need to work on in a heated shop in the winter. I’d love to be able to bring the utility barge into the shop for repair and maintenance, but it doesn’t fit, so any work on the utility barge has to be done outside.

With a new maintenance shop, we would still need our current cold storage building, three hoop buildings and an area at the water plant to store equipment and supplies. Depending on the location of a new shop, we might need to construct a new cold storage building, then the current one could be turned into a boat storage building.

Q. What do you like about your job with the LPA?

A. I like the variety. It’s always something different, something new. No day is ever the same. I also like the challenge. Sometimes I stare at a place that has washed out around the lake or a roadside ditch, and need to figure out the best way to fix it. That can be a challenge, but at the end of the day, it adds to the satisfaction. 

I also have a lot of respect for my maintenance and erosion control team. My crew has a great deal of knowledge about LPA’s infrastructure and the uniquprojects we encounter in our day-to-day work. Their talent and experience is very valuable. I appreciate the fact they take pride in their work, and I can count on them to do a good job.