By Pat Caldwell
VALE – At a casual glance street pavement work may appear to be a thankless job.
In the summer heat, hot asphalt fumes drift up from scorching roadways and envelopes workers in a haze of odors mixed with sweat and grime.
But for Vale’s J.R. Lattin, a street job is all about perspective.
Take one recent Tuesday.
As the Vale street supervisor stood at the corner of A Street West and Court Street North, he occasionally stepped out to direct traffic while his crew worked to put down a layer of asphalt.
“Believe it or not, I get more compliments than complaints,” he said with a quick grin.
Lattin, 56, is no stranger to road maintenance work. Lattin said he began his public service career with Malheur County and then moved on to the Oregon Department of Transportation. He started with the city of Vale in July 2014.
The best part of his job, he said, is the ability to be outside on pleasant late autumn days.
“I am having fun. Especially when you get a day like this,” he said.
As Lattin watched, workers began to put the final touches on the pavement overlay on Court Street, the culmination of a multi-phased project that began at the beginning of the week. The street pavement work was fueled by state grant of $50,000, City Manager Lynn Findley said.
“It is a great deal. Without this allotment, we can’t do this. Our total street budget is $100,000 and we have labor to pay out of that and everything else,” Findley said.
The grant is designed by the Oregon Department of Transportation to earmark $1 million each year for cities with a population of less than 5,000. Small population cities than apply for the grant. A committee of regional representatives prioritizes each city and decides which one will secure the grant. Cities can apply for the subsidy once a year.
“We kept applying for the grant. Our turn was coming up and I put a lot of pressure on ODOT to make it happen this year because prices were so low on oil and they helped us,” Findley said.
Findley said the grant funding is critical.
“We can’t do big paving jobs. And we’ve been trying to fix these streets for years,” he said.
Findley said the city completed paving on B, Court and Bryant Streets between A Street and Washington Street.
For Lattin the work proved to be satisfying, especially because the weather was good.
“I am just happy we are done,” he said.
Lattin, who graduated from Nyssa High School and lives in Vale, said he is pleased with his life in Malheur County.
“It has been good. It can be crazy sometimes,” he said.
Lattin’s job – he is out mingling with the public on a regular basis as his crews complete street maintenance – often gives him a distinctive view on modern Malheur County. One of his most crucial observations is how fast-paced modern society is.
“Everyone is in a hurry,” he said.
Still, Lattin said teamwork plays a key role in his crew’s success.
“We are such a small crew that we do everything together,” he said. “But it is fun when you see something like this completed. This is beautiful November paving weather.”
As the unseasonably warm Indian summer days’ fade, Lattin said the street department is already preparing for snow.
Lattin said he is glad he lives in Vale – with one proviso.
“The best part of living in a small town is everyone knows what you are doing. The worst part? Everyone knows what you are doing,” he said with a wide smile.