City maintenance staff tested by trio of wintertime issues
January 20. 2014 8:46AM
Every winter when the snow starts to fall, Rollie Hoeke’s phone starts to ring.
And this year has been no different than past years, he says.
His phone has been ringing.
But Hoeke says its OK to call him. He’s always willing to listen to the concerns – sometimes more complaints than concerns – of the public.
After all, that’s whom he works for.
Hoeke, Brandon’s director of public works, and his staff, try to do their best to keep city streets clear of snow and ice. However, equipment and materials, utility breakdowns and a limited staff are just a few hurdles the city crew faces.
Take the last four weeks, for example. With two significant utility breakdowns and snowfall, accompanied by unusually bitter temperatures, Hoeke and his crew have been on the clock 24/7.
“It was the perfect storm when all of this hit,” is how Ward 1 Alderman Blaine Jones summed up the series of utility breakdowns and snowfall, which were hampered by the frigid temperatures.
“It all started the night of Dec. 7 at the city Christmas party,” Hoeke says.
That’s the night that one of the city’s lift stations, located in Pioneer Park, went down. The faulty lift station could have flooded homes and businesses with backed up sewage, had the issue not been discovered as soon as it was.
Hoeke’s temporary solution to the problem was to assign two guys from the city maintenance crew to 12-hour shifts, 24 hours a day, at the lift station site pumping water with the use of generators. Hoeke said staff had a difficult time keeping up with water usage in the affected area.
In addition, city staff also battled extreme temperatures and wind chill factors. “At one point it was 14 or 18 below; things were freezing up, and when that happens, you can’t pump,” Hoeke explained. “And then we still had our other same duties … and with a limited crew of eight guys, it’s tough to do sometimes.”
This year, like past years, Hoeke says his phone rings when residents aren’t happy with the condition of the roads.
Ward 2 Alderwoman Jo Hausman, the council liaison to the street department, said she’s received various calls regarding ridges in the roads created by packed down ice and snow.
At the Jan. 6 meeting of the Council, Hausman asked Hoeke to explain the reason behind the ruts on city streets.
“With the equipment we have, none of it has any down pressure,” he said. “So if it gets packed down we have a hard time getting it off.”
The rutty roads could be rectified with the purchase of a $295,000 motor grader or leasing a grader at a cost of $15,000 annually plus a per-hour usage fee, which was Hoeke’s suggestion. The Council was receptive to the idea, and suggested the lease costs be built into next year’s budget.
But don’t look for a snow gate, Hoeke said.
“If we get a motor grader on lease, we probably won’t get a snow gate,” he said. “This is the upper Midwest and we’ve got to deal with the snow; it’s the nature of the beast.”
But even if the city acquires the use of a motor grader, Hoeke says it wouldn’t be used every time the snow falls. In fact, city ordinance states that streets are only be plowed if there is an accumulation of three inches or more.
Hoeke said he’s received calls on sanding, most recently about the product that was used.
To begin, Hoeke said the liquid melt product is not effective in temperatures below 10 degrees. The unavailability of sand/salt mixture also forced city street staff to use (untreated) gravel “to try and find some traction for people,” he said.
Hoeke received two calls about the sand; one person asked why they were putting “big rocks” on the road, and another reported “a large chunk of something” on the road.
The untreated sand is only used in emergency situations. Hoeke said two loads of the sand-salt mixture were delivered last week and two additional loads are scheduled for arrival this week.
“It’s (snow removal) not a job where you get a lot of compliments; there are always people disappointed,” Hoeke said. “But we try the best we can.”
“They were up against some unusual circumstances,” Hausman said.
Residents should also remember that if a snow removal alert is made, parking on city streets is prohibited at that time. Violators could be ticketed and/towed.
Home and business owners must also remove snow from any sidewalks that abut their property within 48 hours of the snowfall or accumulation. If that is not done, the city may remove the snow and bill the home or business owner for the work.
Hoeke and staff have the responsibility to keep100-125 miles of city roadways clear. He said the snow removal process takes about eight hours to complete using just city staff. Contractors are called in following heavy snowfalls, he said.
Hoeke earmarks approximately $42,000 annually for snow removal costs, but those costs fluctuate with the winter weather.
“The last few months have been pretty trying with the lift station, snow and ice, and now the well,” Hoeke said. “They say it comes in threes, and we have our three now.”