March 2, 2013
By late Friday afternoon, all that was left was removing the snow from the center of the streets in the downtown area.
For a little more than a week, between 50 and 60 employees from Sedalia’s Street, Cemetery and Sanitation departments, along with help from the Vehicle Maintenance and Water departments, worked nonstop 12-hour shifts to combat the nearly 2 feet of snow that had fallen.
“My guys have this weekend off; they’re probably going to rest,” joked Public Works Director Bill Beck.
Starting before last week’s storm that brought 9.5 inches of snow and Tuesday’s storm that dumped an additional 10 inches across the city, plow crews were working to make sure emergency routes were clear.
“Each storm is different, so you make a new plan of attack every time,” Beck said. “The first and most important thing we focus on is getting the emergency snow routes clear, especially the roads that lead to the hospital and schools. Then we start to work our way out and eventually make it to residential areas.”
Working 12-hour shifts, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. or 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., Beck said the crews started with laying down a salt mixture to help keep the streets warm. Once the snow started falling, crews worked nonstop using snowplows, Bobcats and front-end loaders to move it from the streets.
“We thought they would get last weekend off, but then we heard how serious the second storm was going to be so they worked straight through,” Beck said. “We wanted to get as much of last week’s snow out of the way before the new snow hit.”
This week’s storm brought its own problems — the heavy, wet snow caused tree limbs and power lines to snap and fall. With a normal snow, crews plow arterial streets first then spread out equally across the city to get to residential areas, Beck said. But because tree limbs were blocking access to streets, crews instead went in as a unit, first removing debris then snow.
“It takes a little longer that way, but the plows couldn’t get in easily without taking care of those trees first,” he said. “And then when we were done, we knew we didn’t have to make a pass through again.”
Beck knows there have been complaints, particularly from residents whose driveways were blocked in when snow plows made their passes, and said he’s actively working on creating a plan that prevents this.
“It’s tricky,” he said. “We might go down a streets once and if there are cars on it, we have to work around them. The next day, maybe we notice a few of those cars have moved and we decide to make another pass down the road, except now we’re blocking in driveways all over again.”
Beck noted some residents made a suggestion that city crews use a Bobcat to clean driveways as well as the roads, but he nixed the idea.
“There are about 12,000 driveways in Sedalia,” he said. “A snowplow can go down a street in about a minute, but who knows how long it would take crews to clean off each driveway on top of that. I understand people’s frustrations that they have to dig out multiple times. We’re working on it.”
Now that the major winter storms are over — “hopefully” Beck added — he’s looking at budget projections for next year’s snow removal. This year about $110,000 was budgeted, with the two storms costing the city about $60,000 Beck estimated. The bulk of the money goes toward purchasing salt, but also regular and overtime wages and new blades for the snowplows.
“That money is in our budget and luckily we’ve had such a mild winter before this, and a mild winter last year so we’ve been saving money,” Beck said. “You can never really make a completely accurate number projection year-to-year; weather is constantly changing. One thing we do know — big storms like this don’t happen often.”
The rarity of major snow storms is the reason more crews aren’t hired, he added.
“What would they do for the rest of the year?” Beck asked rhetorically. “Besides, we only have eight snowplows, and frankly, we don’t need any more. If we had snows like they do up north, where this is a normal occurrence, it would make sense, but we don’t.”
Despite the handful of complaints, Beck said he was proud of the work his crews did.
“We’re always tweaking and working on our plans to make things go smoother and faster but, given what we had to work with, I think they did the best job possible,” he said.