Precipitation in any form other than rain is rare here, so snow and freezing rain can be a problem when it's as tenacious as last week's proved to be.

Helping keep the roads clear was Mike Agalzoff, foreman of the Clatsop County Public Works Department's Astoria shop. It's one of three stations that, along with the department's Knappa and Jewell shops, hit the roads at 5:30 each morning and worked throughout the day and into the evening to clear the roads of snow, ice and fallen trees. With roads around Astoria clearing relatively quickly, the local shop sent many of its vehicles and crew to help out the Knappa and Jewell crews.

"We have to deal with it so seldom, and we've had mild winters for the last few years," Agalzoff said. "But we were prepared, it all came off without a hitch."

The Tillamook County native knew he wanted to stay close to his roots when he pursued a degree from Oregon State University. But it was teaching that he planned to make his career. After his graduation he sent resumes to every high school on the Oregon Coast from Newport north, and was lucky enough that his letter crossed the desk at Warrenton High School just as the school's shop teacher was retiring.

But teaching seemed too stable and routine a career for a young man in his early 20s, and he soon left to take a job managing a local lumber yard. If stability wasn't his cup of tea, Agalzoff got his wish - the recession battering Oregon in the early 1980s shut down the business not long after his arrival, and in the scramble to find another job he ended up with the county public works department in 1984.

The public works department had its own stability problems back then, when an annual levy provided its budget. Agalzoff was briefly laid off one year when the levy fell short, but in 1986 the new road district was formed, providing a stable tax base.

Today his job is stable, but not routine, he said.

"It's the variety of stuff - you don't go to a single place every day," he said. "There's always something new. It's been a good job."

Aside from the occasional snow storm, the road department is kept busy repairing and upgrading roads, clearing ditches and culverts and otherwise keeping the 250 miles of county roads driveable.

Working with the public is also an important part of the job for Agalzoff, who tries to educate citizens about what's required to keep the roads in good shape.

"Most people just see a pothole - they don't see the culverts, the stuff underneath," he said. "Until I worked here, I didn't realize how much work was required to keep things up."

He also encourages his crew to "knock and talk" and keep roadside residents up to date on current repair and maintenance work.

The job has some new challenges, including new environmental restrictions - the department can no longer perform ditch-maintenance work in the wet winter months, for example, and it has installed new "fish-friendly" culverts under some roads, he said. It is also dealing with the issue of how much of the road work to contract out to private companies. This, and the search for a new public works director.

Agalzoff has followed the environmental-friendly approach at home, too. A part-time cattle rancher, he was recently recognized by the Clatsop Soil and Water Conservation District for his efforts to restore the riverfront on the ranch he operates along the Lewis and Clark River.

- Tom Bennett

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