Mark Thiel promises his crews haven’t forgotten how to plow the city’s streets of snow. But it would be tough to blame them if they had.
“Last winter definitely was the gentlest winter I’ve seen,” said Thiel, the city’s assistant director of public works who oversees snow removal operations.
Thiel has produced a new City Hall report that found the city spent $530,000 less on snow removal operations in the 2011-2012 winter season compared with the same period a year earlier.
City crews dealt with just 2.5 inches of snow — compared with 33.5 inches a year earlier — and used just 749 tons of salt to treat the roads, down from about 3,300 tons from the 2010-2011 winter.
The nearly snowless winter has put the city in a good position for this year, Thiel told city commissioners earlier this week.
“We’re good to go,” Thiel said. “A mild winter like that just adds more life onto our equipment, and salt has an indefinite shelf life, so there are no worries there.”
Now, the city is just like everybody else: waiting to see what winter has in store this year.
Thiel said the city tracks three different weather forecasts: the National Weather Service, the Farmers Almanac and forecasts provided by a contracted weather service.
“All three seem to be saying above-average temperatures and about average precipitation,” Thiel said. “I think that means we’ll probably have a little bit more snow than we had last year.”
If the snow does come, the city will have a slightly more aggressive approach in dealing with it. This will be the second year the city will use a process that pre-treats the streets with a liquid brine ahead of a storm.
But last winter the city had only four trucks equipped to spread the liquid salt solution. This year, the city has about a dozen trucks, which will allow all of the major arterial streets in the city to be pre-treated.
The pre-treating can be done hours ahead of a storm, which means city crews can do the treatments during normal business hours and reduce the city’s overtime costs.
The bigger benefit, though, is that the brine creates a bond that separates the snow and ice from the pavement. That bond makes the salt the city spreads during the middle of a storm all the more effective.
“It really allows us to attack it from both sides,” Thiel said. “We have salt working from the top and the bottom.”
City commissioners earlier this week approved the city’s 2012-2013 snow plowing plan, which includes a list of the priority one and priority two streets that will get plowed and treated first.
The report also detailed city spending on snow removal for the 2011-2012 season. It included:
• $33,900 on wages, down from $196,093 in 2010-2011.
• $12,972 on equipment, down from $179,336.
• $48,735 for materials, down from $250,240.
Commissioners were told the city will start the winter season with 4,000 tons of salt on hand and will have an order of 2,500 tons of additional salt on hold. Historically, the city averages about 21 inches of snow per year, according to the report.