Per usual, municipal officials hope for a mild winter

December 23, 2018

As the first signs of winter fall to the ground in white flakes, municipal officials are looking to the skies, hoping for a mild winter.

“I’m always hoping it doesn’t snow much,” said Conemaugh Township Supervisor Matt Mlaker.

“It can snow over Christmas, but then it can go away,” he laughed.

Municipal officials across Somerset County are responsible for budgeting the amount of salt they purchase, the snow plow drivers and repairing the plows themselves. Some of them also drive plows. If their area has a mild winter, they can save some money for their taxpayers.

Mlaker said that Conemaugh Township has six plow trucks on the roads when it snows and one truck on reserve. Maintaining those plows can be cumbersome as salt corrodes their parts.

“You just keep them clean and keep the salt off the parts and frame of the truck,” he said. “Salt definitely eats up the beds and the framing and the electric motors.

“Those trucks take a big beating when they’re out plowing. They’re relatively low mileage trucks but they’re very hard miles.”

He estimated the township purchased more than 100 tons of salt this year.

“Price are going up with everything. Everything is going up,” he said. “But I don’t remember it being overly crazy this year.”

Windber Borough Manager Jim Furmanchik said that he ordered about 40,500 tons of salt this year, slightly more than last year.

“We don’t use anti-skid at all for the past four years. It’s strictly salt because anti-skid, first and foremost, it eventually washes into the stormwater management system,” he said. “It causes clogs in the system, which isn’t good.

“It also becomes a nuisance for the neighbors because it gets plowed into their front yards. It saves that laborsome task for the residents.”

Shade Township supervisors Chairman Mike Muha said that he purchased about 46 tons of rock salt this year, and he mixes it with anti-skid.

Muha said he uses a larger salt stone on his township’s roads because it stays on the roads longer. It cost the township about $3,000 for 46 tons, or $65 per ton of salt.

“I remember back in 2014, it was only $39 a ton,” he said. “It has to do with the surcharge on everything because of the price of fuel.”

Muha told his plow drivers to conserve salt because the larger salt stones last longer than smaller stones.

“It’s not business as usual,” he said. “We cut our usage back and so far it’s been working good.”

As of Friday, the winter season hasn’t been too rough, Muha said, but he added that the season is just getting started.

“I don’t get into a panic. This isn’t my first rodeo as far as using salt and anti-skid,” he said. “We’re just into it now. Ask me in March or April.”

Officials also said they’re seeing the weather change over the years, which is causing them to rethink their road maintenance methods.

Mlaker said he is concerned about all of the rain that the area received this year and how it will affect the winter months.

“I’m hoping for a good year. What concerns me is if the amount of moisture we received all year has continued,” he said. “The weather is colder, so we might be seeing a lot of snow.

“I guess we have to wait and see what happens.”

Furmanchik is also concerned about the mixture of wet rain and heavy snow.

“It makes it hard on the equipment for plowing as well,” he said. “Something so simple as cracking welds on the plow assembly puts it into downtime. It keeps less trucks on the road.

“We run four plow trucks a day, but if you have one down that makes it tough for everyone else to cover the needed territory.”

“I would have to say, realistically, this year it’s been one bad storm. It’s been kind of gentle up to this point.”

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