Sunday, January 12, 2014

Maine's early winter wonderland keeps road crews working hard - By Elizabeth Richards

Winter came on fast and furious this year, with a steady stream of storms throughout the month of December and into January. According to Windham director of public works Doug Fortier, there have been four two-day storms, two of which dumped at least 12 inches of snow, as well as two ice storms including one that lasted for three days.

Though there are some obvious challenges when winter begins like this, crews have been prepared to handle the onslaught of storms. “We expect to have a winter every year,” said Raymond public works director Nathan White. “The only real challenge we’ve had this year is a lot of snow this month – we don’t usually have this much snow in December,” he added.

Fortier agreed. “We’ve had half a winter in a month’s time,” he said. “The challenge with a single crew is when the storms go on and on and on,” he said. At some point, the crew needs to stop for rest. But they do what needs to be done, he said, returning as necessary until the roads are cleared.

Don Willard, Raymond town manager said this is more of an “old fashioned Maine winter,” which is planned for, but not seen very often. “We’re certainly seeing it this year,” said Willard. “In general terms you see a greater use of sand and salt, and you wear out cutting edges, that sort of thing, and you can have equipment breakdowns. The more snow you push, the more times you’re out, the more problems you can have. This is very early to be this far into it,” he said.

Though the towns are handling the storms well, with so much snow and ice, there are bound to be some challenges. White said that one issue is not having a chance to restock their supplies. In December, their contractor went through 1,800 yards of sand and the town equipment used close to 700 more. With storage room for only 2,000 yards at a time, and with the storms coming in such quick succession, it’s been a challenge to keep the sand stocked. “We took two days and tried to restock last week, got hit with another snow storm, and we’re about out again,” he said.

Fortier said he has needed to restock sand as well, and much of his sand budget has already been used due to the early storms. “Ice storms eat so much sand,” he said. Often, when it’s so cold and raining, a road will be sanded and by the time they finish the other roads nearby, that first road needs sanding again. “You’re just making circles. You’re going around and around sanding as quick as you can. It doesn’t help people if they don’t happen to come out right after you sand, because it will be frozen over again. Some people have thought roads weren’t being sanded – they are. It’s just that when you’re getting rain they’re going to freeze back over again,” said Fortier.

Willard said the best advice he can give is to stay off the roads whenever possible. “When it’s snowing, if you can possibly do it, stay home, stay safe. Stay off the roads. That used to be the rule of thumb. These days, people want to go, and sometimes have to go, right in the height of a blizzard. That’s always a bad idea,” he said.

Fortier said that traffic is one of the biggest challenges for road clearing. “If you don’t have to be out there, don’t be out there,” he said. He added that people need to be sure to give plow trucks plenty of room, particularly at intersections, where the driver might be planning to dump off the snow and head back down the same road. Sometimes, cars pull up right behind the truck, leaving it nowhere to move. “Give my trucks room – stay back. Let them do their thing to make it better for you,” he said.

As of now, the long range forecast looks as though there might be a break in the action, said Fortier. This will give the towns time to restock supplies and crews an opportunity to rest. But weather is hard to predict. “We’ve probably had about half our storms in a third of a year, but who knows,” said Fortier. “We’re supposed to get a break now and it might not snow another snowflake right through until April. All we can do is take what we get and deal with it. I am sure the town will do whatever we need to do to make sure the roads are safe to travel on, no matter what,” he said.

White said that anyone with a problem in Raymond should give the public works department a call, and they will try to take care of it quickly.

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