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Hard winter keeps racking up dollars

Last year by the time May 1 rolled around the county garage had spent just over $131,000 to clear away snow and ice on roads during the winter season.

On Sunday the garage had surpassed that figure by almost $4,000 and winter isn’t half over.

“On average we spend $131,349.85 in labor, equipment and materials,” County Engineer Doug Cade said.

For the winter of 2014 that figure has already hit $135,001.29.

Winter season for the county road crews runs from Nov. 1 to May 1 when typically 675 tons of salt are put out each year.

“We have used so far 606 tons of salt this year and 2,142 tons of material, salt and aggregate,” Cade said.

However, with the light winters in recent years the county has enough material to last until spring.

“One of the benefits we had in 2011 and 2012 is we only used 200 tons of material,” Cade said. “Roughly we have 1,400 tons of salt on hand, typically two years of salt.”

But just in case the winter gets even rougher, the engineer has put in an order for an additional 400 tons.

“If we have a worse late winter, I will have material available,” he said. “If not, I can put the salt in the storage bin.”

Of the $135,000 spent so far approximately $50,000 of that includes the cost of overtime labor and fringe benefits.

But even though the crews have racked up extra hours, the county still doesn’t operate an around-the-clock operation to clear the 380 miles of road under its jurisdiction.

“We don’t have enough material and manpower to do that,” Cade said. “When we are in snow-ice emergency removal mode, we have 10 to 12 trucks, two graders and an operator to load the trucks. We have our full force out. It is physically impossible to work 24 hours a day.”

Before the crews go out, Cade and his road superintendent already know the extent of the upcoming storm and how much snow it is expected to deposit.

“We pretty well wait until the snow quits before we start,” he said. “We don’t have enough manpower and money to pre-treat roads. As soon as that last blast of snow, our guys are at the garage ready to go.”

Once out, crews are on the job until roads are as bare as they can make them. However, this past Saturday a sudden white-out forced trucks off the road for almost an hour.

“They just couldn’t see,” Cade said. “Some couldn’t see the snow plow attached to their truck. But those guys have done a tremendous job. When they are in a difficult situation, those guys know how to handle the trucks.”