December 28, 2010

For Road Crews, a Perfect Storm

By the evening commute, Derry plow trucks had cleared roadways but continued to battle snowdrifts. 
Union Leader Correspondent
Nathan Hayward, 9, and  Kelsey Lombard, 8, spent
 hours building a snow fort with friends in East Derry
DERRY -- As far as winter weather goes, local highway officials say this week’s storm was pretty manageable. “It really wasn’t a bad storm, and everything worked out well,” said Salem Public Works Director Rick Russell on Monday. “We were definitely ahead of it, and we stayed with it the whole time, which is key.”
Crews in both Derry and Salem hit the roads at around 5 p.m. on Sunday, with about 70 employees and contracted plow truck drivers working in Salem and about 35 in Derry, according to town staff.
Drivers kept at it through the night, officials said, and were finishing up final sweeps and chemical treatments by early Monday afternoon.
Russell and Derry Public Works Director Mike Fowler estimated that about 12 to 13 inches of snow fell in each of their towns over the course of the storm.
But the snow was light and there was room to store it off the roads, which Russell said isn’t always the case.
“We had plenty of room to put everything Mother Nature
 dealt us because there wasn’t any snow already there,” he said. “When you get back-toback storms, you can run out of room quick.”
And Fowler said the storm’s timing with school vacations made for easier work.
“Schools are not in, so many people are on vacation this week,” he said. “What I saw at 7 a.m. this morning was nowhere near the regular commuting traffic you would see with school buses and people going to work. People stayed off the roads as advised and that really helps.”
Monday’s storm marked the first big snow event of the year, and Fowler said he’s only beginning to chip away at his $570,000 winter maintenance budget.
After Monday’s final cleanup, Fowler said he estimates that Derry will have spent about $50,000 in labor costs for the whole season so far.
“It’s been very favorable right now for the tax base, but I always
 cross my fingers because two or three good storms could start to put the budget under some stress,” he said. “We play it day-by-day in the winter.”
Salem has only used about two-thirds of its $700,000 winter maintenance budget in this calendar year, Russell said. The new budget beings on Jan. 1, and Russell said his budget could handle two or three big storms before then.
On the short term, Fowler and Russell said their crews continued working Monday night to monitor the snowdrifts that come with heavy winds.
But Fowler said he hopes that by Tuesday morning, his crews will be able to take a muchneeded break.
“This was a 16- to 20-hour job, not one of these storms that last for days on end, and at this point it doesn’t appear that there’s another one coming for at least 5 to 7 days,” he said. “That’s good for us so our drivers can get good and rested to prepare for the next one.”

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