North Country highway supervisors watching snow removal budgets
Sunday, February 24, 2013 - 8:32 am

By CRAIG FREILICH

This winter’s North Country snowfall amounts to far more than last winter’s, and those who manage snow removal are keeping an eye on their budgets.

Overtime for weekend snow removal, along with a couple of equipment breakdowns, means that “we’re probably pretty close to the edge” of the winter snow removal budget in Potsdam, according to Village Administrator David Fenton

However, Canton Town Highway Superintendent Terry Billings says the annual battle with snow on the highways this winter is “so far, pretty good” in his department.

“We’re halfway through February and the shed is full,” he said, referring to nearly half of the 1,000 tons of road salt he brought in for the winter still on hand.

In a village like Potsdam, the job isn’t over when you finish pushing snow from the roads, Fenton noted.

“Those guys will plow the day of a storm,” he said of the village plow drivers, “but we’ll have parking lots, downtown sidewalks, sidewalks all over town, and fire hydrants to clear,” Fenton said.

“So we’ve had a couple of storms this winter bad enough to actually cause us to bring people in on weekends.”

At times there might be nine or 10 village workers “actively moving snow around,” Fenton said.

A major repair job came up when the blade on a village grader – very useful in clearing larger areas of snow – stopped turning. “At $3,000 to $4,000 a pop for a lot of those repairs, it adds up fast,” Fenton said.

In Canton, Billings said overtime for plow driving is “very average” this year, in part because the snow we have got this winter – easily more than last year’s totals – has mostly been during the regular work week and not on weekends.

So the budget for winter road work is “in pretty good shape, as far as I can tell,” Billings said.

The exception to the story of snow not coming on weekends was the big storm Friday, Feb. 8 that continued into Saturday and left the better part of a foot of snow to be cleared.

“We had two four-man crews in six hour shifts from 3 p.m. Friday to 3 p.m. Saturday, around the clock,” to clear the roughly 100 miles of road his crews are responsible for, Billings said, “and we had everything pushed back and cleared up with mostly blacktop showing” on the road surface.

But Billings says he can see the sunlight at the end of the snow tunnel.

“This time of year, snow removal is easier” than earlier in the winter, Billings said, because of more sunlight.

“The sun is getting right on top of us and it doesn’t take much to get the roads clear of snow.

“Another six weeks and people will be raking their yards getting ready for spring.”

Downstate, portions of which are still recovering from Hurricane Sandy, got socked with a heavy load of snow during that same weekend storm, and Billings said his department helped out the state Department of Transportation with their effort in the New York City area.

He said he sent a crew to Lowville to truck a DOT loader to Highland, north of New York City, where it was put to work helping to clear snow there.

“They’re still in tough shape down there, with power outages and some streets still blocked with snow,” he said. “A lot of people are still hurting.”

He did mention the climbing price of fuel as a concern for his department, but not right away, as they are still using fuel through a state contract with a locked-in price, but with construction and road-building season coming up, he will be looking hard at fuel needs. Oil products not only provide fuel for vehicles but are also a primary component of asphalt for road building and maintenance.