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Rolling up the streets of DL

Detroit Lakes city crews do a late night 'roll up' on the city's empty streets. The city removes the snow from the sidewalks on many streets near the downtown area when it gets too deep. DL NEWSPAPERS/Brian Basham

The downtown streets were empty and quiet except for the scraping and mechanical sounds of heavy equipment being operated a few blocks away.

Veteran snowplow driver Bryan Sandberg precisely steered his road grader inches from a sign on Front Street during an early morning plowing session in downtown Detroit Lakes. His years of experience and driving skill is what keeps the signs intact and cars unscratched by his plow.

“The (snow plow operators) are very contentious, they’re well trained, they’re skilled operators, and what they do, not everybody can do,” said Brad Green, Detroit Lakes Public Works director. “But even though they’re good, you need to give them some room, too.”

The city crew was out in the early morning cold to perform a “roll-up,” where the piles of snow are removed from the sidewalks.

Two graders and a Bobcat plow all the snow off the sidewalks and into the middle of the street, where a large, truck-mounted snow blower comes along and blows the snow into a dump truck. The whole process takes about five hours on three different nights.

Sandberg said he and another grader driver report to work at 12:01 a.m. to start their roll-up work. The snow blower crew shows up around 2 a.m.

But that’s just a typical winter day when you’re working for the City Street Department.

According to Green, the city has about 100 miles of roads to plow, which can take up to eight hours to complete with a four-inch snowfall. Clearing the roads is mostly a matter of timing, he said.

“When it snows later in the morning and during the day, we try to just do the main roads because with all the cars and traffic and parking, it’s too hard to get. Then we usually come in early the next day to take advantage of low traffic and hopefully no parking on the streets,” Green said.

“If we come too early and it snows when the guys are done with their shift, then of course, you have snow in the streets. And if we go too late, there’s still snow in the streets.”

But safety is always the main consideration when plowing the roads. Green said the public should try to avoid the “yellow flashing lights” when they see the snow plows on the streets.

“We think safety first,” he said. “And that’s why things don’t get done at times. There’s cars and we don’t want to cause damage or anything. In the middle of the night, with big equipment, stuff can and will happen.”

During the day, or when there’s no snow removal to be done, the street crew will mainly work on equipment repairs, preparing things for the next season and doing other odd jobs.

“Now, when we have this much snow, part of the thing we try to do during the day is to try to knock down high snow banks on the corners and where we know it drifts severely,” Green said.

The city fields a lot of complaints during the winter plowing season, which Green said they try to “take down the middle the best we can.”

“We have some compassion, and that is one reason we try to get the sidewalks as best we can,” he said.

When time allows, the day crews will take the Bobcat and scoop snow from sidewalks around the city.

“When you get that heavy, wetter, slush snow, you need some mechanical stuff to remove it. To me, it makes sense if we have time and if we can help people that way, we try to,” Green said.