The 911 call comes in. A distraught voice on the other end needs an officer at Mountain Road.
There’s just one problem. Bonner County has about 15 roads named Mountain. They are miles apart and at different ends of this massive county.
“It’s a big pain in the butt and there are times we go charging off in the wrong direction,” says Bonner County Sheriff Chip Roos. “The confusion has never resulted in a loss of life, but it’s a bad situation.”
Five years ago, the county wanted to install an enhanced 911 system. The computerized emergency service would show a caller’s exact address, and directions to the home.
When county officials started cataloging addresses for the system they found a mess, not just with house numbers but with county roads.
There was no list of how many roads existed, let alone the names of them, said Pat Achziger, a Road Department administrator.
Even now, only about 30 percent of the 1,100 roads have signs. Many have duplicate names or are known by three completely different names.
To complicate the problem, addresses along many roads are in no logical order. Years ago, instead of issuing someone a new address when they moved, residents just took their mailboxes with them.
“With all those problems together it’s a wonder we get anywhere in this county,” said Achziger.
She’s worked to untangle the road jumble for four years. The first victory was a road-naming law passed last year. Names must now be approved by the county, recorded and signs installed by subdivision developers.
“Before people just stuck up a sign with a name on it. We had no idea what it was or where it was. People would call and say, ‘Turn by the trailer that burned down.”’
County Commissioner Steve Klatt was one of the first to test the new law. He named the county road he lives on and paid about $30 for the sign. The name: “Private Road.”
Someone liked the sign so much they stole it. Klatt paid for another.
A resident on a particularly rough thoroughfare recently received his sign. It’s now officially “Oil Pan Road.”
A county favorite is “Where It’s At Road” near Clagstone. Achziger said it’s actually a private road named by a homeowner. No one is sure why he chose the name, but everyone knows where it is, she said, with a laugh.
Most roads were named after landmarks, such as Dumpster Road, by the Colburn landfill or Al’s Welding Road, which of course, is where Al’s Welding shop is near Blanchard.
The county’s latest task is to change all the duplicate road names, such as the 10 Forests, seven Firs, nine Granites and six Fish Hatchery roads. The changes require public hearings in each road district.
“We’ve pretty much banned any more names with mountain, meadow, lakes, creeks, pines or any other kind of tree in them. We have too many already, and are concerned about emergency vehicles finding these places,” Achziger said.
Last month a man having a heart attack called an ambulance to Evergreen Road. There are three of them. Luckily, Roos said, the caller stayed on the line long enough to say which direction.
“There is no good argument for not changing these names, but it’s fascinating the amount of emotion it brings. I’ve had people nearly come to blows over them,” Achziger said. “Sometimes we don’t even know there is a problem until we put up a sign.”
Squabbles have erupted over what is now Colburn-Culver Road. It used to be Farm To Market Road. Oldtimers still use that name.
Same with Lakeshore Drive. Maps show it as Riverview Road, and longtime residents know it as Fish Hatchery Road, because that’s where the fish hatchery has always been.
The county also wants to do away with sound-alike names. It’s hard to understand a caller blurting out Hoo Doo Loop - or was that Hoop Loop, or Roop, or Hoo Doo Mountain or just plain Loop. The county has them all.
Try telling the difference on the telephone between Kinnicinic and Kinnikinnick.
“This stuff needs work, no doubt about it. Some times we don’t even know what district they are in,” said Road Supervisor Red Riebe. “But at least we are on our way to cleaning it up.”
County officials really don’t care what the road names are as long as they know where they are, they’re not a duplicate and the names fit on signs.
“White’s Rabbit Ranch Road,” just east of Sandpoint, could be a tight fit and is a prime candidate for sign thieves.
“We try and steer people away from cutesy names,” Achziger said. “They always get stolen.”
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