Snow removal a costly effort for city

By RICHARD LUKEN
Register Reporter

Judy Brigham figures the Christmas winter storm that dumped upward of five inches of snow and ice wound up costing the city about $10,000 — so far.
City crews began clearing streets as soon as the snow started piling up Thursday evening — an effort that continues still today.
“It was a heavy, wet snow,” Brigham said. “We just don’t have that many storms like that.”
Through preliminary figures, Brigham, city administrator, counted about $5,000 worth of overtime for street and alley and other city employees over the Christmas weekend, plus that much or more for fuel and equipment.
Complicating matters were two plow trucks and a salt spreader breaking down over the weekend. The spreader and one of the plow trucks have since been repaired and are back in service.
That the storm occurred on Christmas Eve was a mixed blessing, Brigham said.
For example, crews had to work doubly hard to ensure the city’s main thoroughfares, including U.S. 54, remained clear for travelers.
“But because it was Christmas, we didn’t have to worry as much about getting areas near our schools cleared,” she said. “And most of the businesses were closed Friday, so we didn’t have to focus on them right off.”
On the other hand, the Christmas holiday meant particularly heavy loads for trash pickup early this week.
The city dispatched a backhoe to clear paths throught the drifting snow along alleys in order for track pickups, Brigham said.
“And you have to remember, we don’t just have street and alley crews out with a storm like this,” Brigham said.
Electric distribution employees are on standby in case of power outages, and water department crews note that bitterly cold temperatures can cause water line failures.
“And I’d guess our police officers helped push more than 30 motorists who were stuck in the snow,” Brigham said. “It was a busy weekend.”
With a “typical” winter storm, the city gives the highest priority to clearing U.S. 54 and State Street, followed by areas near each of the city’s four school buildings followed by the downtown business district and finally other side streets, such as Carpenter, North Walnut and South Washington.
One note: the city rarely clears snow or treats roads in many residential areas.
“We just don’t have the staffing or the equipment to do everything,” Brigham said. “We have had police officers check for troublesome intersections in residential areas because we haven’t had much water runoff.”
Without the water runoff, stagnant water has refrozen, creating a slicker than normal surface, particularly with the city’s salt spreader out of commission.
“If anything, this morning’s snow was a benefit to my neighborhood (South Cottonwood Street) because we had some more traction with the snow on the ice,” Brigham said.
The city sets its budget expecting at least one or two major storms a year, Brigham said. Because the Christmas snow was the first of the season, the city had enough money budgeted to absorb the costs.
“Give us three or four storms like this, though, and our budget will be shot,” she said.