Huge snowfall creates 'hectic' winter for plows
The massive amount of snowfall in Chugiak-Eagle River this winter has racked up a bill of almost $1 million — and that’s just the cost of plowing.
Plowing the nearly 11 feet of snow that has fallen in the Anchorage area so far during 2011-12 has cost about $870,000 — more than triple the average cost over the past 12 years — according to Eagle River Street Maintenance general foreman Mark Littlefield. That figure only represents the cost of plow outs, Littlefield said, and doesn’t include cleanup costs or “winging back,” where crews push the snow beyond the ditch line to make room for more snow.
“That’s just plowing the snow as it fell,” he said.
Over the past 12 years from October to March, Street Maintenance has averaged 6.5 full plow outs — they are responsible for 199 miles of roads — and 3.5 partial plow outs, Littlefield said. This year, he said, crews completed 20 full plow outs and 14 partials.
“It’s been a very hectic year for us,” Littlefield said. “We put out two and a half times the normal use of sand trying to combat the snow and ice.”
Crews can complete a full plow out in 12 to 16 hours, Littlefield said.
“We’re very efficient out here and we’re very fast,” he said.
Thanks to conservative planning, Littlefield said, the Maintenance budget had enough money to get through the heavy winter.
“We’re doing OK,” he said. “We’ll see where we’re at at the end of the year, but I think we’ll be OK.”
Littlefield said Maintenance plans for harsh winters, and any money saved is put into the fund balance. But that won’t happen this year.
“We expended all of our maintenance funds,” Littlefield said.
The fund balance has also been used in the past to keep the mill levy down, however, that’s an unlikely scenario this year, Littlefield said.
“We won’t have that luxury this year,” he said. “We’re all gonna pay the full rate I think.”
November 2011 was the worst month for plow crews. There was a 21-day stretch where every piece of equipment was in use, Littlefield said.
“November was a bad month,” he said. “They expended a lot of money and a lot of time.”
Despite working as much as 16 straight hours during a snowfall, crew members handled all that Mother Nature threw at them, Littlefield said.
“The guys were tired, but they made it,” he said. “The crews did really well.”
Back-to-back snowfalls were the most difficult to handle, Littlefield said, because crews didn’t have an opportunity to make room for more snow. In fact, he said, crews didn’t wing back until January.
In one instance, crews had to shut down a plow in order to wing back because there wasn’t anywhere to put the snow, Littlefield said.
Seeing the temperatures reach the mid-40s was a welcome relief, Littlefield said.
“I’m glad that it’s over,” he said. “We’re looking forward to summer.”
But crews can’t rest just yet.
Now that the snow is melting, Littlefield said, Street Maintenance will have to battle potential flooding. The best scenario is if warm daytime temperatures dip below freezing at night to prevent flooding, Littlefield said.
“We’re hoping that the spring melt fluctuates,” he said.
Littlefield said he’s considering chopping up the remaining ice but doesn’t want to cover any drains.
“We’ve got all the drains open,” he said. “Hopefully, everything will melt and stay in the storm drain system or ditch where it’s supposed to be.”