Heavy snows tax Roaring Fork Valley snow-removal efforts
February 6, 2014
Last week's huge snowstorm and lingering snowfall throughout this week have stretched snow-removal budgets and personnel resources in many local communities.
The big winter storm that blew through on Jan. 30 and 31 dumped about a foot of snow in downtown Glenwood Springs, while nearby Carbondale recorded more than two feet in the central part of town, and Aspen had up to three feet in areas.
"We started with 25 inches, and have been playing catch up all week," said Larry Ballenger, Carbondale's public works director. "That's the first time I can remember that much snow at once.
"We've had more snow in past winters, but it's always built up through a series of 5-, 8-, 10-inch snow falls," he said. "This one has been challenging."
That goes not only for the Carbondale's public works crews, but on the town's snow removal budget.
"We're definitely over budget already," Ballenger said of the town's $35,000 annual snow-removal budget.
Carbondale and Glenwood Springs both rely on outside help from contract heavy equipment operators to scoop and remove the strips of snow that line the streets after local streets crews plow it to the middle after a big storm.
"The way the sequence of snow storms have come has inhibited our ability to get to those wind rows," Glenwood Springs Public Works Director Robin Millyard said.
Glenwood Springs is not in quite as tight a situation with its budget — yet, he said.
As of this week, the city had spent about half of its winter snow removal budget of $30,000, Millyard said.
The biggest challenge for Glenwood Springs is getting people to move their cars that are parked along residential streets long enough for crews to come in and plow the parking lanes as well as the travel lanes, he said.
"There are streets on the east side of town where people are forced to park farther and farther away from the sidewalk as the snow builds up, making it hard for us to clear the travel lanes," Millyard said.
A real mess
Ballenger said it's important to remove as much snow from town streets as possible before the temperatures warm.
"I would really like to get rid of as much of that snow as we can before we go into another thaw cycle," he said. "That's when you end up with a real mess."
After early season snow from December began melting, Carbondale had a major problem with ice build-up that had to be scraped from its streets and away from storm drains.
Carbondale and Glenwood Springs have stuck with the method of plowing snow to the center and removing it, even though it would be less expensive to plow to the sides, as other municipalities do.
"We tried to do that a couple of times, but we end up freezing cars in so that they can't get out, and the postmaster even refused to deliver mail because his carriers couldn't get to the mailboxes," Ballenger said.
The town of New Castle plows snow to the side of its streets, mostly because of the extra expense involved to plow to the middle and have contractors come in to remove it, said that town's public works director, John Wenzel.
Even so, "It's been a challenge for us," he said.
"We have a staff of four people who are responsible for snow removal, and they have been putting in 10- to 12-hour days, six days a week just to keep up," Wenzel said.
New Castle's comparatively modest $8,000 snow budget goes mostly for sanding material, he said. The town was able to save some of its chip material that was left over from street maintenance projects last summer, which helped to cut that cost, he added.
"This is the most snow I've seen in a winter in a long time," Wenzel said. "We have had a lot of overtime, so we are certainly spending much more on labor for this time of year than we are accustomed to."
That cost may need to be made up with less park maintenance during the summer, he said.
"We just have to keep going," Ballenger said of the ongoing over-budget costs to remove snow in Carbondale this winter. "It's just one of those things."
Millyard said Glenwood Springs will most likely burn through its snow removal budget by the end of the snow season.
"We'll do what we have to do," he said. "It'll balance out some other way."
The National Weather Service forecast for the Glenwood Springs area called for a continued 70 percent chance of snow Thursday night through Saturday, with daily snow totals between 1 and 3 inches possible.
The long-range forecast is for mostly sunny weather to return next Tuesday, with highs around 30 degrees.