Road crews nearly done with clearing routes due to snow storm, clean up will follow

March 19, 2019

SCOTTSBLUFF — Preparation helped road departments in Scotts Bluff County, Scottsbluff and Gering ready for snow removal during last week’s blizzard, public works officials said Monday.

“This storm impacted the majority of the roads over the county,” Linda Grummert, Scotts Bluff County highway superintendent, said, noting that the county has 810 miles of roads divided into three districts, coming out of Mitchell, Minatare and Gering. In some areas of the county, she said roads were covered by 10 to 12 foot drifts.

However, as of Monday, Grummert said, the county had completed clearing routes so all rural residents had access out of their properties.

Drifting also created problems in areas of Scottsbluff and Gering and crews focused first on clearing emergency/snow routes before clearing secondary routes and residential areas.

“The biggest frustration (for crews) is the wind continuing to blow and drift as long as it did with this storm,” Pat Heath, Gering public works director, said. “They plow and go back and it doesn’t look like they have touched it because of the drifting.”

Gering has an estimated 150 road miles, Heath said. Crews focused during the storm on clearing snow routes, then secondary routes which are primarily around schools and in the downtown area. On Friday and Saturday, he said, crews in Gering cleared at least one lane in residential areas to allow a path for people. Crews also focused Saturday on clearing residential alleyways for sanitation crews to be able to get back to normal trash removal.

As a result of the storm, Gering saw heavy drifting in some of its usual areas — Neighborhoods west of Five Rocks, such as the Meadows, Monument View and the Preserve, sections of U Street, Country Club Road and D Street, Heath said. Clearing those areas was also hampered by abandoned vehicles.

Jordan Diedrich, deputy director of Public Works, said crews were still working north of Scottsbluff Monday to clear drifts in alleyways so sanitation crews could do trash pickup. Areas north of 27th Street are most likely to encounter drifting because of higher elevation and other factors.

Like Gering, Scottsbluff also focused its snow removal during the storm on designated snow routes, then secondary routes. Crews began clearing paths in residential areas on Friday and some of that work continued into Saturday, he said, particularly clearing roads around schools to ensure that streets were ready for school to resume Monday.

All three entities tried to prepare in advance for the storm.

At Scotts Bluff County, crews took machinery home with them so they could leave their home, clear snow en route to the district’s shop and then continue clearing snow.

“Some of them had success,” Grummert said. “Others it took the better part of the day just to get themselves out...”

Crews were also hampered by vehicles that were abandoned by people, despite no travel orders.

“So many people tried to go out and got stuck,” she said.

Heath said public works officials started hearing about the storm in advance as crews were cleaning up from another snow storm Friday. By Monday, he said, National Weather Service and emergency management officials were highlighting that a blizzard was expected and Heath said plans were put into place by Tuesday.

“It (the forewarning) gave us a chance to get some more equipment in, rent some extra equipment ... and it also gave us a chance to get a second, smaller blower hooked up and everything prepped,” he said.

Gering also had contingency plans in place in case power outages hampered fuel delivery, which would have been a worst-case scenario, Heath said.

In Scottsbluff, preparation meant meeting with emergency management officials, planning its staffing and readying equipment.

“I think we handled it the best we could,” Diedrich said. “We had a good game plan and for the most part, we kept the main roads open.”

Preplanning looked at the littlest of details, such as planning when to apply ice slicer, Diedrich said. When the storm changed from rain to snow on Wednesday, at about 10 a.m., crews applied ice slicer to keep roads from becoming slick. It was then re-applied at the conclusion of the storm, meant to reduce waste but keep streets from getting slick.

For Gering, one of those details involved where to deposit the snow that was removed from the roadways. Crews had to make some changes, Heath said, because areas where the city normally moved snow were oversaturated and snow removal vehicles would get stuck. He said the city hauled 90 percent of the snow from the storm to Five Rocks Amphitheater.

The storm does bring added costs for the county and the two municipalities. Grummert, Diedrich and Heath all estimated costs at about $50,000, with increased costs for overtime and fuel at the top of the costs.

“Fortunately, we have not had too many snow storms,” Deidrich said, explaining that Scottsbluff officials try to budget enough to get through a large snow storm or two each year. “Most of the time, we have enough money and it doesn’t hurt (our budget) too bad.”

Increased costs during the storm included overtime for staffing road crews.

On Thursday, Grummert said, crews were out early to help clear roads to and around the Lake Minatare area as it had been impacted by a power outage and electrical personnel needed access to repair make repairs. Gering and Scottsbluff made staffing changes to have crews on through out the storm. In Gering, Heath said, that involved everyone, from parks and recreation employees to electrical crews, and in many cases, he said, staff are cross trained which is a big help during events such as large-scale storms.

In preparation of the storm, Gering did lease some equipment and also contracted with crews for snow removal. Grummert said that the county also contracts with other entities for snow removal and she said her estimated costs aren’t including those figures yet.

Grummert thanked the public for keeping the county informed during the storm of areas that had trouble spots or had not been cleared. She said county officials were “happy to hear” from the public. She also thanked the public for its patience as road crews in the county will continue to be working, widening roads and then out repairing crews in the days ahead as the snow melts.

Scottsbluff, Gering and Terrytown also announced that the snow emergency that had prevented vehicles from being parked on city streets along the snow route had been lifted Monday.