By JIMMY LAWTON
Sub-zero temperatures, an ice storm and snow that refused to melt have made this a memorable winter, but highway superintendents say it hasn’t been all that bad for their crews.
Highway superintendents in Canton and Potsdam say they have currently used about as much salt and sand this year as they did the entire winter last year, and with March around the corner, they expect to drop about 200 more tons of the salt-sand mix before the season ends.
But Potsdam Highway Superintendent John Keheler says those numbers aren’t particularly high.
“Originally when we started out with all that ice in the beginning we were using a lot more sand, but that’s started to average out,” he said.
Keheler said he has exhausted about half of the town’s 1,000-ton supply and while it’s more than he used last year, it’s, not much above historical averages.
Canton Highway Superintendent Terry Billings said he is in a similar situation.
“I am, right now, where I was at the end of the season last year,” he said.
Billings said there is a perception that this winter has been particularly harsh, but he says that’s mostly due to the low temperatures, not high amounts of precipitation.
“I think it’s psychological. Overall, it’s been a little tougher winter cold-wise,” he said. “It started early and hasn’t stopped.”
Billings said he had planned to do a road project after Thanksgiving, but the quick November freeze stopped him early.
Since then his crew has been busy, but not buried in work. Billings said his highway workers have been getting some overtime this year, but the majority of snow storms have fallen during the work week, which has limited overtime hours.
“We’ve been pretty fortunate,” he said. “Our overtime is up, but most storms started at the beginning of the day. It wasn't like a Friday night or Saturday storm."
While snow removal hasn’t been too tough for local highway departments, it’s proven to be a more difficult year in the more populated areas.
Potsdam Village Superintendent of Public Works Bruce Henderson said the ice and frequent snow have made clearing roads and sidewalks difficult.
Henderson says he keeps close tabs on snowfall and estimates that Potsdam received about 70 inches this year, that’s compared to an average of around 60 inches.
While that isn’t way above average, the snow has fallen more often and stuck around much longer than normal. He said an early layer of ice also made things difficult.
“That ice storm really killed us,” he said. “And then it seemed like we got about an inch of snow everyday. There was a 14-day stretch where it snowed about an inch a day.”
The frequency of snowfall is difficult within the confines of the village, which must deal with pedestrians, traffic and illegally parked vehicles.
“Our job really begins after the snowfall,” he said. “We have to remove snow from parking lots and clear side streets that are narrow,” he said.
While this year has been tougher than normal Henderson said he isn’t complaining.
“In 2007 – 2008, we got 12 feet of snow. That was the winter from hell,” he said. “That was the only year that I remember running out of room to put (snow).”
With warmer temperatures on the way Henderson said his crews are preparing for the thaw and all the problems that come with it.
“Right now, we are clearing our catch basins for our storm drains and getting ready for the melt,” he said.