By Gregory Gerdel
Snow removal crews from Montpelier’s Department of Public Works (DPW) managed to clear many of the accumulated snowbanks before the arrival of back-to-back storms this week.
Frequent, light snowfalls started early this winter, and while the one- to two-inch accumulations from these Alberta Clippers keep things pretty, they’re much more expensive from the street maintenance perspective than an occasional big storm.
Public Works Director Thomas McArdle explained that, while the snowfall this winter might be “normal,” having it fall in small amounts requires more frequent deployment of street and sidewalk plows—and more overtime for employees.
Of the overall $2.28 million in the DPW budget, approximately $948,000, or 44 percent, goes to winter maintenance, including equipment, materials (salt, sand, and cold mix for filling potholes), labor, and overtime.
Snowbank removal in the downtown area is the priority for winter maintenance. To avoid conflict with business activity, it is done overnight with the parking ban in effect. A second round of snowbank removal came in mid-January this winter, followed by a gradual branching out into the quieter streets in the residential neighborhoods.
“Unlike downtown, we’re able to temporarily close the less-traveled streets and clear the snowbanks during the daytime,” McArdle said. Those operations typically involve a combination of city equipment and additional rented equipment. “We’ve even managed to do the northern section of Elm Street during the daytime,” he added.
Heeding Parking Bans
Through mid-January this winter, the parking ban has been called four times for snow plowing during storms and twice for overnight snow-removal operations.
Overall, the three-year-old program of announced parking ban alerts is going well, but it is burdensome for crews when people don’t comply, McArdle noted. “Sometimes we do have good compliance, but we’re not able to clean back to the curbs if cars remain on the street. In that way, it was easier to clean up when the season-long ban was in place.”
The ban includes all city streets, even when the actual snowbank removal is confined to just some of the streets. For the DPW, the challenge is trying to balance the snow removal operations and the impact on the driving public—and the contracted towing companies. An early winter snow plowing operation encountered 40 cars left on the streets, making a logistical nightmare for the overburdened towing companies. “We don’t want to tow,” McArdle explained. “Nor do we want to risk hitting parked cars when plowing.” The city is giving some thought to increasing the cost of parking tickets during a ban, which has remained $15 for many years.
Where the Snow Goes
Protecting water quality in rivers and streams has brought significant changes in snow dumping strategies for communities throughout New England. In Montpelier, most of the snow dumping is now at the Stump Dump, despite the fact that going out Elm Street is a lengthy haul. Secondary sites are the old Grossman’s lot near the Route 2/302 roundabout and beneath the I-89 overpass across from the Green Mount Cemetery on the west side of town.
To capture pollutants that are in snow piles, in the fall DPW laid down a specialized fabric in the dumping areas; DuraWattle has an imbedded filter curtain that contains the contaminants. “Snowbanks look really dirty,” McArdle said, “but the actual quantity of solid material isn’t that great once the snow and ice melt.”
Long term, DPW is looking into melting systems, but those are very expensive. Called Snow Dragons, these machines are essentially a hot box for melting snow. The use of sand has been greatly reduced in recent years and alternative compounds for melting snow and ice have been incorporated into the cleanup effort.