This winter season has gotten off to a strong start with three weeks of snow and ice, and the repeated storms have taken a big, early bite out of public works budgets for Lincoln County towns.
John Daigle, the director of public works in Waldoboro, has seen these past weeks eat up more than half the sand, salt, and overtime hours budgeted for the entire winter.
“I usually plan on about 16 to 18 storms and usually you plan on sanding about 30 to 40 times,” said Daigle, who has held his position since 1993. “In this area, our average snowfall is running right around three feet, and of course, so far this winter we’ve almost gotten three feet already.”
The biggest hit area for Waldoboro has been in its fuel line: Daigle said his department has already used 6300 gallons of fuel for winter maintenance, when he usually runs between 6000 and 8000 gallons for the season.
The freezing rain that came in the days before Christmas took a big chunk of his resources, because the crews are running a sand and salt mixture every two to three hours to keep the ice down on the roads, Daigle said.
“You’re sanding a lot more doing those storms than you do when it’s a big snow storm,” he said.
Waldoboro has used 420 tons of its 800 ton budget for salt, and has used 3200 to 3400 yards of sand out of the 5000 yards put up for the year.
Usually that amount of sand will last the town for the whole season, Daigle said. “If we run out this year, this’ll be only the third time we’ve ever run out.”
Spreading all that material on the roads as well as doing snow removal takes time, and the amount of overtime has subsequently gone up because of the frequency of the storms.
“The biggest thing is the storms are coming in on the weekends, and it seems like we’re having storms every three days. We’re trying to get snow hauled off and cleaned up and bang, we’re hit with another storm,” Daigle said.
The public works department had spent $25,753 of its $44,202 budget for overtime as of Jan. 7, exclusively on winter maintenance, according to Daigle.
The department’s overtime budget is down this year, too, after voters approved a $9159 cut in a third attempt to finalize the municipal budget. The public works budget had originally passed intact in June.
Wiscasset Road Commissioner Doug Fowler only started his new position on Dec. 23, 2013 and said Jan. 6 he had not yet been able to compiled specific figures on what the past weeks have drawn from the town’s public works department.
“As you can imagine, everything is quickly being depleted,” Fowler said. “We’re probably midway through our sand, and as far as overtime we’ve definitely been putting in quite a few hours.”
The ice has kept crews out running sand and doing brush work to keep the roads open, but the intensity of the snowstorms have kept the department running for the duration, Fowler said.
“The storms have been quick hitters, but they’ve also been high accumulation so we get started and there’s really no break, no lull in the storm,” he said. “We’re pretty much out start to finish and have a quite a lot of cleanup to do at the end.”
Despite the long hours, “everybody’s been maintaining a real good attitude and the responsibility of keeping everything safe,” Fowler said.
Not every town in the county may have the same worries about their budgets as Wiscasset and Waldoboro, though – Damariscotta, Newcastle, and Nobleboro all contracted with Hagar Enterprises for their winter maintenance.
Seth Hagar, a vice president for the company, said the contracts are priced for the season, regardless of how many storms hit or how much precipitation falls.
“Obviously we’d prefer to see it, from a company standpoint, with less snow,” he said.
Nobleboro, unlike the other two towns, is responsible for buying its own sand and salt, however.
Just like the municipal departments, Hagar said this winter has required a lot of time and materials to keep the roads passable.
“This winter has been a very unique challenge because of the wide variety of types of precipitation and the climate changes we have seen have been very dramatic from warm to cold,” he said.
Hagar said he hears criticism from some members of the public on what his company does for prep work, such as pushing snowbanks far off the roadway, but that sort of work helps ensure there is room for further snowfall during the rest of the winter.
Once the rain comes and those snowbanks freeze as it did this week, they will not be able to be moved, Hagar said.
“There’s a lot more science behind it than the general public likes to admit or can see, quite frankly,” he said.
Like Fowler, Hagar also lauded his workers for their efforts.
“The guys have done really, really well, and without some really awesome help we have and a lot of long hours and dedication, we wouldn’t be where we’re at,” Hagar said. “Our company in particular owes a lot to our employees.”
Both Daigle and Hagar had pleas for the public.
“We ask people to be patient on the street cleaning,” Daigle said. “We’ve only been slow on that because the storms have been coming in so quick.”
Hagar asked people to mark their mailboxes as best they can, and insisted there is never any intentional hitting of them.
“These guys are putting in long hours and it’s very difficult to see at times,” he said.
Hagar also urged patience during maintenance.
“People just need to slow down and go easy, and we’re out trying to do everything we can as quickly as possible,” he said.