Sunday, March 9, 2014
A recent barrage of snowstorms is rapidly depleting municipalities of the salt, sand, fuel and overtime they have budgeted to keep the roads safe.
Augusta Public Works mechanics Jason Arbour, left, and Rick Merrill inspect plow tires with shop foreman Shawn Harrington, Monday, at the city's garage.
Staff photo by Andy Molloy
Another significant storm, predicted for Wednesday, will send communities closer to the point of cost overruns, according to public works administrators throughout the central Maine region.
While the number of storms has not been unusual, many of them, including the winter storm dubbed “Nemo” by the Weather Channel, have fallen on weekends. That translates into more overtime costs for plow truck operators than would otherwise be the case.
An unusually dry January put municipalities ahead of the game, but February has seen a flurry of storm activity that has put most on pace to spend their entire budgets by the end of the season.
Lesley Jones, director of public works in Augusta, said her department is still within budget for this time of year but weekend storms do add up in a hurry.
“Weekend storms really eat up the budget with overtime,” Jones said.
When 11 inches of snow fell on Augusta this past weekend, the city spent about $11,000 in overtime for city crews to keep the roads plowed, salted and sanded.
This year Augusta has about $114,000 budgeted for overtime for snow removal crews, and has about $48,000 of that left, leaving the city about where it should be at this time of year, Jones said.
She said Augusta budgeted about $1 million for snow removal efforts this year. Once the past weekend’s storm is accounted for, the city will have about $444,000 left for the rest of the winter.
Every time it snows in Waterville, the city spends about $450 per hour keeping the streets clear, according to public works Director Mark Turner.
“This past weekend, we had more snow volume than Nemo,” Turner said.
In a typical 10-hour event, he said, crews will pre-treat, plow and then clean up the roads, at a total cost of $4,500 to $5,000.
So far this season, Waterville has responded to 24 weather events, a term which encompasses everything from heavy snowfall to freezing rain. It also spends money on snow removal, with an estimated 1,000 tons of snow scheduled to be taken in truckloads from Main Street, Common Street, Appleton Street and the Concourse on Monday night.
“Pretty much 90 percent of our overtime is expended,” Turner said. Supplies, including salt, sand and fuel, are about 75 percent gone, he said.
If the department goes over the roughly $1 million budgeted, it can draw from other department accounts that are under budget or the city’s reserve funds if needed, he said.
With another major storm coming on Wednesday, no one knows how many weather events there will be between now and spring.
Total snowfall in Portland is at 70.9 inches for the season, far higher than the average of 44.7 inches, according to Margaret Curtis, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.
She said Nemo, which added 31 inches to the total, contributed to its being the fifth-snowiest February on record since 1948.
In Gardiner, City Manager Scott Morelli said he’s not expecting the recent or upcoming snowfall to put the city over projected costs associated with plowing and snow removal this winter.
“We’ve still got another storm to come, so we’ll probably be closing out right on budget,” he said.
Morelli didn’t have access to exact budget figures Monday afternoon due to the computer system being down, he said.
Skowhegan has sent out the plows nine or 10 times so far this season, and is budgeted for about six more, according to Greg Dore, the town’s road commissioner,
“We’re two-thirds of the way through the winter and we’ve used two-thirds of our salt,” Dore said.
“We’re about where we should be.”
Dore said the town spends about $3,500 per storm, most of which goes to salt.
“Salt is the biggest thing that we try to keep track of,” he said. “When you go through a hundred tons of salt at 80 bucks a ton, that really adds up.”
Staff writers Paul Koenig and Keith Edwards contributed to this report.