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Detroit Lakes City street crews dump loads of snow from throughout the city in the old city dump on Old Pit Road Thursday morning. Brian Basham/Record

Where does all that snow go?

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Where does all that snow go?
Detroit Lakes Minnesota 511 Washington Avenue 56501

Detroit Mountain is no longer the only large peak in town, as last weekend's snow resulted in a whole mountainous range popping up overnight.

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But the large piles of snow around town aren't a welcome one for many residents and business owners.

"We are getting calls from people who are impatient and want to know when we're going to come and haul away the piles away," said Detroit Lakes Public Works Director Brad Green, "but people have to understand that we're not used to getting this much snow in one week, and there's just no place for it to go until we can get it hauled out."

And that is taking more time than people are used to, as Green says the sheer size of each pile is three times their normal size, making it a time-consuming project for a relatively small staff of people.

"We only have a few people repairing equipment and handling the calls, and we've got to respond to emergencies first," said Green, adding that that includes a recent sewer break on Minnesota Avenue that couldn't have come at a worse time.

Stretching the staff further is Polar Fest, an event that also requires a large amount of snow removal down by the Pavilion and all along the city beach.

"And that's a place where we don't normally plow until Polar Fest, and so there's a lot of snow and a lot of work to do down there, too," said Green. "We had to make sure the area was clear for the Poles N' Holes and the landing is knocked down so that people can get out there."

Green says there is some overtime allowed for this kind of a situation, but he is careful not to go overboard with that, not only because it's a budget-buster for the city but also a potential safety hazard.

"Our guys are getting a little tired because they're up really early in the morning -- sometimes midnight, 1, 2, and if they're not well rested, that's when things happen because it can be a very dangerous situation," said Green, who says they use a team of six dump trucks for hauling snow, a big snow blower, a pay loader, two graders and a bob cat.

Pile by pile, the snow is picked up and hauled out to the old city dump out on Old Pit Road -- a location with a good drainage system that is also used by the state and county for some of its snow dump.

Most of the work is done in the middle of the night for safety reasons, and while a normal snowfall will take the city crews only a few days to "roll up," this one is expected to take anywhere from 10 to 14 days before all the piles are gone. Green says they're starting with the highest priority spots.

"Those are the intersections where some of the high piles are causing it to be difficult to see," said Green, who stresses that drivers should inch out into intersections until they can see clearly both ways. "And then we also do the hospitals, fire station and nursing homes right away, too."

From there, the downtown business sector is addressed.

"We want our businesses in business," said Green, who says some of the calls have been from business owners not happy about customer-blocking piles, "but without having snow last winter, I think people just sort of forget what winter is really like here."

And although the crews will be putting in some long, hard hours clearing away the city-owned land, other privately owned parking lots are up to owners. Residents are not only responsible for their driveways and mailboxes, but the sidewalks in front of their property as well.

"We do have an ordinance where we want people to get those sidewalks shoveled by a certain amount of time, but we're not about to go out and start issuing tickets or anything," said Detroit Lakes Mayor Matt Brenk. "We know this was a big storm with a lot of snow and it's tough, but at some point we do need people to get that done."

Brenk says the city deals with everything on a storm-by-storm basis, and just like the city crews need extra time to clear things away, so do residents.

"The good thing is, though, that in the next 18 months, we're going to have two summers," he laughed, "so just think positively because we will get through this!"

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