Snowplow drivers piling up overtime in Eagle Co.
Vail, CO Colorado
EAGLE, Colorado ” Most people measure snow depths over a winter by the inch.
After being pounded by snowstorms since November, local governments are measuring snow by the number of overtime hours for the employees responsible for keeping roads clear.
“Our crews have been working hard. Clocking 30 hours a week of overtime hasn’t been outside the norm since mid-December,” says Chris Anderson, airport terminal administrator for the Eagle County airport.
With regular commercial flights leaving as early as 6 a.m. and flying in as late as 10 p.m., airport snow removal crews are working some long hours.
“They are the true superstars of the airport snow removal crew. We owe them a lot of credit,” says Anderson.
This year’s snow amounts have been a test for the staff ” but Anderson says they have been able to keep up with the demand without having to hire extra employees.
At Eagle County Road and Bridge, a crew of 26 employees is responsible for keeping 265 miles of road plowed. Supervisor Brad Higgins says his crew clocked 1,200 hours of overtime between Oct. 21 and Jan. 12. Some 330 hours of that overtime was between Dec. 30 to Jan. 12.
The county had 19 consecutive days of snow from Nov. 2 – Dec. 7; and another 14 consecutive snow days from Dec. 30 to Jan. 12, Higgins said.
Most people don’t realize what a big responsibility road crews have in the winter, Higgins said.
“If my guys don’t do what they do, nobody does anything ” and that includes police and ambulance. It’s a lot of responsibility, and these guys never fail to step up,” he said.
The snow in the valley this year used to be the norm 20 to 30 years ago, he said.
Roads in Eagle County are divided into three districts. District supervisors such as John Harris get up at 2:30 a.m. when the weather looks doubtful, drive their district, then make phone calls to summon plow drivers to their routes.
“These guys are machines,” Higgins said.
County crews are quick and efficient enough that local schools haven’t declared a “snow day” in years, Higgins said with pride.
Just last week, schools in neighboring counties were closed down for a day because of the weather.
“We don’t measure it. We just plow it,” said Dusty Walls, public works supervisor for the town. He estimates that snow depths this winter are comparable to those of 1983 -84. Typically, the town has a crew of 10 out manning the snowplows and sidewalk sweepers.
It all begins with a 2:30 a.m. weather check.
“One lucky soul gets up and checks. We take turns,” Walls said.
Clearing Broadway, the main street downtown, is one of the top priorities. Typically, the crews have that street in good shape by 6 a.m.
“We have to get there before the traffic gets there,” Walls said.
The new design of Broadway with its irregular curbs and landscaped islands is “a lot more challenging” to keep clear, he added.
Like other local road crews, the overtime has been accumulating. Walls said he’s concerned about keeping crews out late at night, when they have to be up early again in the morning.
Eagle hauls some of the snow to a designated area by the wastewater treatment plant.
Walls has some advice for citizens.
‘Don’t park on the streets. That just kills us,” he said.
In Gypsum, Assistant Public Works Director Jeff Shreeve has 11 vehicles and drivers who wait for a 2 a.m. call to start plowing the streets.
“Most of the guys are saying they haven’t seen snow like this for 20 years,” Shreeve said.
For the most part, Shreeve said people are considerate and appreciative of the work snow plow drivers do. Occasionally there’s a complaint from someone with a plowed-in vehicle, the result of having left a car on the street prior to a big dump.
For residents, snow removal ends when the streets are clear. But a big snow year like this winter means the town has to find places to store snow until the spring.
Currently the town is piling its snow at the Gypsum water treatment plant property, at an Eagle County site near the Gypsum town shop and on Eagle County Schools land near Red Hill Elementary School. Finding places to haul snow and vehicles to haul it in has been a challenge.
Low ground isn’t the preferred spot to stack snow, partly because Gypsum wants to be careful about keeping road sand out of streams, Shreeve said.
As he watches the snow piles get higher and higher, Shreeve said he’s given up on long-range weather forecasts. “We haven’t looked any further than seven days out. Those forecast are changing dramatically.”
But has he looks at the snow blanketing the community, Shreeve is doing some planning for the season ahead. “There is the potential that we will need sandbags this spring.”