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Minturn pushes snow removal

Dustin Racioppi
dracioppi@vaildaily.com
Minturn, Colorado
Dustin Racioppi/Vail DailyEarlier this winter, Minturn's town council had criticized its public works crew for what the mayor called the worst snow-removal season ever.
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MINTURN, Colorado ” After a blunt and harsh assessment from residents and the Town Council of the town’s snowplowing nearly halfway into the snow season, the public works crew has made significant progress in keeping Minturn, Colorado’s streets clear of snow, the council said Wednesday night.

“Since the last meeting, the Department of Public Works stepped up. We presented them with a challenge and they have stepped up above and beyond my expectations,” Mayor Hawkeye Flaherty said.

Flaherty scorned the four-man crew’s snowplowing efforts from November to early January, saying it was the worst snow removal season Minturn had ever seen. He ordered it to be fixed right away at the council’s last meeting.

Interim Town Manager Gary Suiter said changes include deploying the crew earlier in the morning when there’s snowfall, staggering employees’ shifts and focusing more attention to graded side streets.

There’s a downside to those options, though.

“In recent storms, we’re out at 4 a.m. but it didn’t snow until 6 a.m.,” Cordova said. “You’re playing with Mother Nature and you always lose.”

Suiter has also started a trouble log at the town hall for residents. Cordova checks it regularly and Suiter said the response time from the department is within a day.

“A lot of these things just didn’t exist a year ago, so we’ve done a lot to raise the responsiveness,” Suiter said.

But a few changes aren’t going to be the panacea to Minturn’s snow problems.

“When you look at the tremendous amount of mileage of streets, it’s an incredible amount of work that needs to occur out there,” Suiter said.

There’s only four employees, including director Rod Cordova, to cover all that ground. Even though the town implemented alternate-side-of-the-street parking during the week, Cordova said he still has to sacrifice one area to get to another just to keep up with the work. It doesn’t help when there’s back-to-back snow storms, either, he said.

“We have a limited crew to work with. We make decisions,” Cordova said, and referring to Main Street, where the new parking plan is in effect, added, “We cannot always get to it Monday, Wednesday, Friday. It just isn’t possible.”

Suiter told the council that help is needed if people want thorough and efficient snow removal.

“There’s just simply not enough guys and not enough equipment to do the job,” he said. “When you have back-to-back snow storms, you’re going to get backed up and complaints will be generated.”

The town recently bought a new plow and sander, which will help, but there’s still a need for a front-end loader for a higher level of service, Suiter’s memo said.

He also recommended contracting plowing responsibilities to some of the hired plow drivers already working metal through town. That could be a strong possibility judging from the council’s response.

“If the staff is full somewhere else, get those contractors on the back streets,” Councilwoman Shelley Bellm said. “That way, the staff can continue to do their focus.”

Suiter’s memo also says that Minturn residents have an old habit of dumping their snow into the streets. That just creates more work for public works and it’s against the town’s municipal code.

And some people don’t even shovel the snow from the sidewalks in front of their homes, which is also against the code.

“A lot of people are lazy. They need to get out there and do their work,” Councilwoman Aggie Martinez said.

There is a long way to go to resolve all these issues, but the blame doesn’t fall solely on public works, Flaherty said. Public works is doing its part.

“I’ve seen a marked improvement and it’s improving all the time,” Flaherty said. “With a little effort on everybody’s part, we can make everything work again.”

Dustin Racioppi can be reached at 970-748-2936 or dracioppi@vaildaily.com.


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