Moving mountains (of snow)
With two storms producing more than a foot of snow in the Detroit Lakes area at the close of the year, the city used up its 2010 budget for snow removal and is getting started on the 2011 allotment.
The twin storms that hit the area over the weekend dropped a combined 12.5 inches of snow on Detroit Lakes, according to KDLM Radio, which operates its own weather station.
The 2010 budget for snow removal was $260,485, and although Public Works Director Brad Green said he doesn't have all the figures in yet, he estimates the city used $258,000 of the budget on snow removal in 2010.
"Basically, we're going to do about as good as you can. We're going to be about zero," he said.
Green said that although it may seem like a lot of snow, it's about average. Thankfully, Detroit Lakes missed the initial blizzard that hit the Twin Cities about a month ago, or the city would have been over-budget.
"This is fairly typical. In 2009, we spent $230,000, and the year before that, we did about the same, so it's fairly typical," he said.
The budget for next year is $262,000. The slight increase leaves way for increasing fuel costs. The budget includes money for fuel, labor, sand, salt and some miscellaneous repairs.
Once the streets are plowed, the city then has to remove the snow from the corners -- or they get so high drivers can't see into the intersections. And from the parking lots that are filled with snow piles.
There are two main dumping sites in the city -- Old Pit Road behind Oak Hills Addition off Highway 59 North and the Becker County Fairgrounds.
"We do have a plan of attack. Our biggest challenge for removing snow from the streets is to not start too early or too late," Green said. "Sometimes we win or lose by a few hours."
Timing comes along with the weather forecast and what's actually going on outside.
Emergency routes are maintained first -- hospitals, fire, police and then other places that need to be accessed 24 hours a day.
"I have to admit, the business district and higher traffic roads come first," he said.
But if it simply continues to snow and blow, there's nothing any plow can do. Over the New Year's holiday, Highway 10 was closed from Moorhead to Detroit Lakes.
Minnesota Department of Transportation Maintenance Supervisor Dennis Redig said his department and the state patrol make the decision together when to close highways.
"Our main job is to keeps the roads open, but when it becomes too dangerous for motorists, we have to close them," he said.
"It's not very popular," he added.
Redig said MnDOT's priority road is Highway 10 and intersections, "and then the trucks branch out on other roads."
MnDOT covers 3,670 lane miles in the district, which includes 12 counties. He said the state doesn't have a specific budget for snow plowing; it comes out of an overall operations budget.
After the roads are cleared, city crews take the snow from downtown, "because there's no storage down there," Green said. They work their way down south Washington Avenue, and continue to "roll up" the snow piles around the city.
"We didn't realize quite how much snow there was," he said, causing the rolling up after the New Years storms to take longer than anticipated.
Once the rolling up is finished and more men are available, they will take down the high corners of snow that block the view of drivers.
Snow is then hauled to a location north on Highway 59 off Old Pit Road that used to be the city dump and is now the "snow dump."
"We get quite a snow pile there. It's probably the last place in town there's still snow left in the summer," he said.
Redig said the state also dumps snow at that site, and usually dumps wherever the other cities dump their snow.
There is also a dump location south of the ice arena on the Becker County Fairgrounds.
"That mainly melts, but if we do get down to the end (of the season), we do haul that out to the snow dump if it isn't melting quite fast enough. Usually nature takes care of itself though."
One of the last city priorities is the sidewalks.
"We do not get around like we used to, but we still like to get out there. It is the homeowner's responsibility, though," Green said.
Homeowners are responsible for getting the snow cleared from their sidewalks within two days of snowfall.
Redig said he'd like to remind motorists not to use cruise control on snow and iced roads, and to give plows room to do their job.