QUESTION: What is the working machinery at the rear of the old Caltrans lot that butts up to the Sanguinetti Road light/intersection?

ANSWER: The former Caltrans maintenance yard once had underground fuel tanks, which were leaking, said Duke York, the county roads officer (for a few more days) and our official Ask the Miner historian. The state Water Board required that the now-unused property be cleaned up, and a part of that process is to aerate petroleum-based fumes from the ground that surrounded the tanks. What you’re hearing is gas extraction “machinery,” York said.

“Many old gas station sites in the City of Sonora and Tuolumne County have been through this same process,” he said.

It can take several years for a tract to be considered clean and available for sale through the Caltrans excess land division.

“When the East Sonora bypass stage I project was constructed, there were at least two old tank sites that warranted similar clean-up,” York said.

QUESTION: I live in Twain Harte and, for the past month or so, every day around 5 p.m., we hear a train type whistle go off. I’m pretty sure there are no trains near. Can you help figure out what this is?

ANSWER: This question has perplexed the Miner for some time. Phone calls and visits to people around the county have left us with an unsatisfying answer. The guy who owns the train store in Twain Harte was the third or so call, and he led us to a guy who lives high above Phoenix Lake Road who does indeed blow a train whistle — a mighty one — each day. But he blows it at 6 p.m. and says you wouldn’t be able to hear it in Twain Harte. He refused to let his name be published because it would spoil his fun overhearing what people say about the mysterious whistle.

There’s also someone at Pinecrest who blows a train horn, but it’s sporadic, only when they’re at the cabin and, surprise, those people bought the cabin from the Phoenix Lake whistle-blower.

Someone else said there was someone on Highway 108 in Soulsbyville who blows a whistle, but that person couldn’t be found.

Dear Reader, help find this mysterious whistle blower.

QUESTION: If you leave the hospital on Delnero Drive turning right toward Mono Way, you have a protected right-turn only lane. Yet a car in that lane stops northbound traffic on Greenley. Anybody who wants to turn left onto Greenley has to be in the straight or left turn only lane so that’s the only time that northbound Greenley should be stopped. I perhaps can see why you may want to stop southbound traffic, but there’s no reason to stop northbound traffic. Can we fix it?

ANSWER: Warning, what you are about to read is pure tee traffic engineer talk from our retiring roads czar Duke York.

“I’d suggest the issue in question isn’t so much a matter of faulty programming, as inherent limitations of the traffic signal hardware itself at the intersection of Greenley and Delnero. Back when the signal was built, evidently as a cost-cutting measure, or perhaps based on an estimation of demand made at the time, the signal system was simplified in such a way as to have separate and independent channels for left and right turns each off both legs (northbound and southbound) of Greenley, but the straight/left turn lane and right turn lanes off Delnero (both eastbound, from the hospital, and westbound, (exiting the Sonora Hills subdivision) were ‘siamesed’ together, both with the detection loops (the wires sensing the cars waiting in the lane), and the programming within the controller.

“Theoretically, to achieve a northbound through lane on Greenley that wouldn’t have to stop for a right-turning vehicle off eastbound Delnero, as wished for by our letter writer, we’d have to provide a right-turn lane on eastbound Delnero that works independently from its currently-conjoined straight/left turn lane.

“This would entail having sets of detector loops in each lane, working independently of each other, plus additional circuit cards in the controller box, as well as revisions to the programming within the controller CPU, to work out the logistics of allowing that extra right turn time, but only under certain (safe) circumstances, given the status of the other lanes, based on the use (timing and pre-emption) variables already in play… all to permit a safe through movement on northbound Greenley.

“These modifications would have to be designed and signed off by a licensed Traffic Engineer, which we unfortunately do not have on staff here, and I’d estimate costs for the modifications would likely be in the $25k range.”

And Duke’s final words as the head of the county roads division for this column: “I’d encourage an impatient motorist to perhaps take a moment to enjoy the seasonal decorations provided by the hospital staff, or notice and relish the beautiful fall colors.”

We’re going to miss Duke.

QUESTION: Often scripted "word for word" news releases are simultaneously issued by affiliate stations at the behest of their parent company.

I see The Union Democrat is published by Western Communications, Inc. I'm curious to know who owns Western Communications and what "news umbrella" they operate under.

It is important for your readers to know how you choose which stories to report, and which to omit.

ANSWER: The Union Democrat is indeed owned by Western Communications, a family-owned company headquartered in Bend, Oregon. The company was started by Robert W. Chandler, who died in 1996, and his family retains ownership today. The eight newspapers in California and Oregon don’t operate under a mandate from the corporate office, but rather are expected to report the news fairly and accurately in stories that reflect the community in which the newspaper is published.

QUESTION: The people of Tuolumne County have lost our right to use the New Melones Lake. The elderly and disabled people have to walk a quarter-mile to the water. The Army Corps of engineers closed the gates to the lake. We pay taxes on it and can't get to it. We can't walk all that far so we can't use the lake on the Tuolumne County side of the lake.

ANSWER: Mike McGraw of the Bureau of Reclamation said the area in question — the middle boat launch — was closed earlier this year because of the level of the water in the lake. The upper boat launch was the launch area for Tuttletown at that time. When the lake level dropped, the middle boat launch was then opened for launching.