All snowplow hands on deck in Eagle, Gypsum during storms
January 5, 2017
EAGLE/GYPSUM — Skiers, snowboarders and Eagle County Schools students greeted this week's snowfall with glee.
But for the people who have to make sure the streets stay open, a 12- to 16-foot dump represents a sizable challenge instead of a powder day opportunity.
"It's all hands on deck," said Gypsum Town Manager Jeff Shroll. "Even our water and sewer operators will plow."
In Eagle, it means a crew of 10 is tasked with plowing 39 miles of streets in the community. But when speaking of snowplowing, that number really needs to be doubled because crews have to clear both traffic lanes. Over in Gypsum, a crew of 12 tackles approximately the same distance.
Those figures might not sound like large personnel numbers, but consider the size of the Eagle and Gypsum municipal governments. With only around 45 people employed by the towns, respectively, a big snow storm means a third of the towns' manpower is directed at plowing the streets.
Both towns employ a similar process for calling out the crews. One employee is designated as being "on call" each week and that employee is tasked with checking weather conditions and making the decision about when to call out the snowplows.
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"The guy who plows my neighborhood was out at 3 a.m. Thursday," Shroll said.
Over in Eagle, Public Works Director Dusty Walls said crews started plowing at approximately 5 a.m. Wednesday and kept out it until 7 p.m. Then the drivers caught some sleep only to return at 2 a.m. Thursday.
While that's a long haul, Walls said it isn't unprecedented.
"This is a big snow storm, but its nothing historic," Walls said.
Shroll noted that the priorities for snow plow crews are school bus routes and main thoroughfares. After that they tackle neighborhood streets and various paths around town.
"Once you have the streets cleared, it's a matter of keeping them open," Shroll said.
After the snow stops
The work for the snowplow crews doesn't end when the snow stops. After the weather clears they have to haul snow piles away from locations around town.
"Two or three years ago with that big snow, we were taking snow everywhere we could think of," Walls said.
Snow removal for big storms also presents challenges away from town streets. Shroll noted the town has compiled a list of elderly residents who need assistance with snow removal at their homes and town crews try to assist those people.
After the snow, everyone has to clear off their sidewalks, which can result in plow driver/homeowner conflicts. When residents push snow out into the roadway, plow drivers have no alternative but to push the snow back to the side of the road. That can result in irritated shovelers and exasperated drivers. Shroll noted its just easier all around to shovel snow into the yard, not the street.
"We always ask for people's patience," he said. "Plowing snow is actually pretty tricky."
Over in Eagle, Walls echoed that sentiment and offered another request. He asked people who have fire hydrants located on or right next to their property to help by shoveling out hydrants so town and fire crews can access them if needed.
"We just can't get to all the hydrants. There are too many of them around town," Walls said.