It may be March, but winter isn’t over just yet. More snow is forecasted for this Thursday and city crews around Dallas County will be ready for it.
Each city handles snow removal just a little different, as the crew numbers fluctuate. One thing they all agree on is how unique this winter has been over the last half of the season.
For Van Meter, there are just two full time public works employees throughout the city. The city currently doesn’t use any seasonal help and operates two Ford F250 pickups with plows for majority of the residential streets and a 1998 international dump truck with a plow to aid in applying sand and salt to the roads.
“Like many smaller, old towns, our city has plenty of areas where off street parking is not an option. We also don’t have curbs in the older part of town. This makes snow removal operations a bit tricky since we can’t judge where the edge of the street is and we regularly have cars on the shoulder with nowhere else to park,” Van Meter City Administrator Kyle Michel said.
Van Meter Public Works Director Dave Herman estimated that it takes approximately 10 hours for the crew to clear and clean up everything off the roads. In between major snow events, Herman and his crew also struggle to haul snow piled throughout local cul de sacs and other areas in preparation for future snowfall.
“There’s a lot of curbs where the roads are getting narrower because since the snow is so deep, you can’t get it up and over. If we get a day off, we usually take the tractor and push the snow up as best we can to try and keep people from blowing it back into the street,” Herman said.
While the city does budget for annual snow removal costs, majority of the routine salaries and snow removal operations are funded through the road use tax revenue and do not impact Van Meter’s overall budget.
“Overtime hours do impact the budget but we budget heavy for snow removal. We also have a maintenance agreement with the county that assists with some of the snow removal operations around the community. Our biggest issue right now is finding a place to store the mountains of snow,” Michel said.
At the City of Adel, a team of approximately 10 people operate four big plow trucks, two pickup plow trucks and two end loaders to help clear the streets after a major winter event.
“After it completely stops snowing, we need to make four rounds on each street. We plow the centers and then curve it. It takes around four to six hours to run a route. By the time we get everything said and done, it takes a pretty good eight hour day,” Adel Public Works Director Kip Overton said.
In order to clear out the streets, the city first creates large piles of snow around the downtown Adel area. Once the snow stops and the streets have been cleared, the crew then comes in and hauls these piles to an alternative location. In between snow events, the crew also performs any maintenance needed on their equipment in preparation of future upcoming storms.
In addition, every now and again the crew also has to aid in patching potholes between storms. With the thawing and freezing process, salt used to treat the roads helps melt everything to a liquid which can then get inside the already existing cracks in the concrete. This liquid then refreezes and pops, potentially causing the streets to create pot holes.
“It’s a never ending process and we’re trying to keep the guys so that they aren’t getting burned out,” Overton said. “Home owners can help out the crews if they are able to clean out fire hydrants, snow blow in front of their mailboxes, and don’t blow snow back into the streets. All my operators get pretty discouraged when they plow the street, look behind them and see someone blowing their snow into the street.”
With materials such as salt costing around $3,000 per storm, the city of Adel typically budgets approximately $60,000 for the process of snow removal. This includes salt, fuel, wages and more. Overton notes that while this has been an extreme year, budget wise, the City of Adel is still well on track. Most of this is due to Adel having little to no snow in December to early January. He also noted that although Adel has had 12 different snow events this year, last year the city had 18.
In Waukee, approximately 21 employees work together in order to help clear the streets from a major snow event.
“It’s important for us to cross train across our department so that we can have these folks step in when needed. We try to have enough staff so that we can rotate in and out so no one is getting too overly exhausted or burnt out. It really is all hands on deck,” Waukee Public Works Director Rudy Koester said.
The public works department is currently made up of over 30 full time employees and operates approximately 12 dump trucks, 12 pickup trucks, one Tool Cat and one snowblower in order to clear snow from the roads. In addition, the crew has also used around 800 tons of salt. Although the past couple months have seen an extensive amount of snow, overall the City of Waukee has so far encountered less snow events then last year.
“We’ve had 8 snow events this year and last year we had 15. It seems like a lot but that’s because we didn’t have much on the front end in November, December and early January,” Koester said.
During a typical event, it takes Koester and his crew approximately eight hours for just the initial snow removal. In addition, it also takes the Waukee Parks and Recreation Department the same amount of time for the initial snow removal on local trails.
In between major events, the city also works to haul snow, particularly from the downtown Waukee area, in preparation for future snow events. Koester notes that even after a smaller snow event, there isn’t ample storage. Waukee instead has ground near the former public works area where the excess piles of snow are hauled to.
“It’s kind of a vicious cycle,” Koester said, “But one thing that is really nice and encouraging for the staffers is the thank you’s and praise our drivers are receiving in social media and when they are at a store. It’s always nice to receive compliments from the residents.”
For the City of Minburn, snow removal can be a challenge with just one crew member.
“Our public works director is the one who does the snow removal. We don’t usually have anyone else,” Minburn City Clerk Kris Fitch said.
The City of Minburn currently has a plow on the front of a dump truck that spreads a sand and salt mix along with a plow on the font of a pickup truck.
Minburn also budgets around $2,000 - $3,000 a year for snow removal. These funds come from money gained from the road and use tax funds.
The City of Perry has seen its share of problems when it comes to snow continuing to pile up.
During a typical winter, Perry Public Works Director Jack Butler said it snows, warms up and melts before it snows again. This winter hasn’t followed that pattern.
The City of Perry hires Repp Construction to come in with the dump trucks to move that snow. They then haul the snow to one of the parking lots at Pattee Park. This year, the parking lot is almost completely full.
When that parking lot is full, Butler said they will move to a second parking lot near the tennis courts at the park.
“If we start dumping there, that will be the second time in 20 years that we’ve had that much snow that we’ve done that,” he added.
Butler said their magic number to start clearing the snow is 2 a.m. It takes the crew around 4 ½ to 5 hours to clear the town.
The crew starts clearing the downtown with four pickups. Those pickups also clear the alleys and City of Perry parking lots.
Four big dump trucks with blades then run routes through the town. Butler said those trucks are responsible for clearing 66 lane miles through town. Each street takes four passes to clear, so Butler said that number climbs to 264 miles.
The City of Perry also has salt trucks that go out as needed. Butler said they had over 500 tons of salt in their building. So far, he added they have burned through about half of it.
“This last month has been a run, but we’re not sitting in trouble with anything,” Butler said. “If it finishes out March and into April like this where every three or four days we’re doing big storms, we might be in some trouble with the budget.”
For now, he added the crews will be doing their best to clear the streets when it snows.
Butler encourages the residents to pay attention to the snow ordinance and move their vehicle off the street when it is set to snow more than a half inch.
“Just to be patient with us. That’s the biggest thing. We’re going to just keep plugging away,” Butler said.
He added that it helps having a crew willing to come in extra early to move snow and keep the city streets clear.
“We’ve got a good group of guys, I would put them up against anybody as far as cleaning streets,” Butler said. “It’s all Perry boys and they take pride in their streets and what they do.”
Editor Allison Ullmann contributed to this report