County gears up for snow: It buys new plow for $148,910If March came in like a lamb, will it really go out like a lion? The Farmer’s Almanac predicts that before winter is officially over, there could be another 30 inches of snow headed this way.
By: Celeste Beam, Alexandria Echo Press
If March came in like a lamb, will it really go out like a lion?
The Farmer’s Almanac predicts that before winter is officially over, there could be another 30 inches of snow headed this way.
Douglas County Public Works Director Dave Robley wants the county to be ready.
At Tuesday’s regular Douglas County Board meeting, Robley made a request to purchase a new 2011 tandem snowplow truck. The total cost – with trade and tax – is $148,910.
The request was approved.
Last Friday, Robley, along with Terry Gillespie, maintenance superintendent of the county highway department, sat down with the newspaper to talk about the county’s snowplowing rituals and the equipment used to keep roads clean and clear.
With nearly 550 miles of roads to keep safe for motorists throughout the county, Gillespie explained there are 16 different snowplow routes with 16 drivers.
There are six trucks that run out of the county garage on Willow Drive and there are 10 that are stationed in garages in outlying areas including Kensington, Brandon and Miltona.
When there is a heavy snowfall, most of the plows are out on the roads by 4:30 a.m. And each driver plows approximately 35 miles of roads. For a three-inch snowfall, it can take from eight to 10 hours to get all the roads plowed and sanded, said Gillespie.
But there are always many variables that factor into how much time it takes, like the thickness of the snow, if there is ice along with it and wind. Wind reduces visibility and causes drifts, said Robley, who noted that he likes his guys to always try and get the roads cleared off in an eight-hour shift.
“About 80 to 90 percent of the time, we can get it done in an eight-hour shift,” said Gillespie, “But there are times, especially this year, where it has taken us longer.”
Both Robley and Gillespie said the 2009-2010 snowplowing season has been one of the worst in quite some time.
They noted what they called “the biggest storm” that took place over Christmas and the ice/rain storm that took place in January.
Gillespie noted that he and his crews were out in full force on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday of the Christmas holiday weekend.
“To be out every day during Christmas is unique,” he said. “Christmas was one of the biggest storms of the season.”
When snow falls and the plows are called out, Robley said it’s nice that the city, townships, county and state all work together to get the roads cleared as quickly as possible.
In the late 1980s to early 1990s, he explained that townships started taking care of plowing the roads within the township. Today, nearly all townships take care of their own plowing.
When it comes to sanding the roads, the county uses a mixture of salt (10 percent) and sand (90 percent). In the last three years, the county has used an average of about 1,000 tons of salt per season.
The price of salt today is about $80 per ton, whereas the price for sand is $4 per ton, which is the reason for the 10/90 split, said Robley.
Gillespie noted that salt four years ago was much cheaper than today. It was anywhere from $40 to $50 per ton.
Robley said that when fuel prices took a big jump, so did salt and it has steadily increased ever since.
And so has the price of equipment. In 1998, the price for a new plow was roughly $98,000. Today, they can cost anywhere from $148,000 to $175,000.
The reason for the increase, said Robley, is because of emission standards, which he said, “really made the prices climb.”
When asked if there was anything they wanted the public to know about snowplowing Douglas County roads, they both asked that the public be patient.
“We try to get out on the roads right away,” said Robley. “Or at least we try to get out ahead of the peak hours.”
Gillespie added, “We are never going to be out there at the right time for everyone, but we try to do the best we can and we ask in return that people try to understand that. And be patient.”
Although spring officially begins next weekend, on March 20, Robley noted that the snowplowing equipment wouldn’t be put away for probably another two months.
Nowadays, he said, the winter season seems to last from late October to early May.