Operation: Snow Storm

Spearfish’s new snow removal plan received a trial by fire, so to speak, as nearly two feet of snow was heaped upon the city on Thanksgiving weekend. With city officials singing its praises, Public Works Director Dustin Lee said there’s still work to be done. Pioneer file photo

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SPEARFISH After the major winter storm, which dumped approximately two-feet of snow on the city of Spearfish on Thanksgiving weekend, the Public Works Department received the first true test of its new snow-removal plan.

“We had 23 inches of snow here in the city in basically a day,” said Dustin Lee, Spearfish Public works director. “While most of the municipalities around us stopped operations because they couldn’t keep up with the event, we did not.” 

Lee credited his department’s ability to be so effective during the storm to the amount of preparation and planning he and his team were able to execute prior to the winter storm season.

“While it was still 80 degrees outside they were driving around in these pieces of equipment, covering their sector to try to learn it,” he said.

Lee explained that another factor to the effectiveness of the department’s new plan was taking the time to divide the city into sectors and designate which pieces of equipment would be most effective in each area. 

“I don’t mean to disparage how they did it in the past, because it’s always been a hard problem to crack around here, but what we’ve done differently this year is just matched the equipment for the city,” he said.

With as much prep work under their belts as they could get, Lee said the final component came down to the street teams and mechanics knowing what part they were to play and executing it with precision.

“We know that the snow is gonna come, we’re watching the forecast and they’re building the trucks for us,” he said. “We had a pre-event brief at 1 o’clock that Friday before the snow was gonna fly, and we went through everything at nauseam.”

Lee said the plan went off without a hitch, and even as the snow fell, his team was able to keep the roads clear enough for other departments to do their jobs effectively.

“We kept the priority one routes open the entire event and (even before the event had concluded) we started to get priority two routes opened up, and within hours … we had 95% of the city’s residential routes open,” he said.

“There was never a time during that storm where public safety was compromised,” Pat Rotert, director of the Department of Public Safety said of the event. “If we needed to get into a neighborhood, we could get into a neighborhood. Could we get to a driveway? Not necessarily, … but we have the tools within our own department to get there if we have to.”

Lee praised the dedication and efficiency of everyone who stepped up to help out during the event. He said this was the first time that the city didn’t have to call on the help of independent contractors for assistance, and with nearly 100 miles of road needing attention, that’s no small feat.  

“Never before has that been able to be accomplished,” he said. “It was incredible that they did that all without outside entities helping us.”

Lee said even more to the credit of his team was the fact that no one was expecting such a major snow event so early in the season.

“It was a 50-year storm for crying out loud,” he said. “You get your six-or seven-inch snows, we’re fine, we’re doing great. This one was right out of the (gate) we had to come out swingin’ right from the get go.”

Although Lee and other city officials had only the highest praises for how the street teams handled the snow event, Lee said he more than understands the plight of the residents, and the strain on their patients the cleanup effort can be in the days following such a storm.

“When Mother Nature gives us everything she can give us, sometimes we have to acquiesce,” he said. “While we don’t want to inconvenience anybody, snow is an inconvenience in itself.”

Lee outlined a few efforts he and his crew are planning to implement for future snow events based on the conversations he’s had with the street teams, as well as public input.

“It can be a herculean effort to come out there and (shovel your driveway) once, and then somebody comes back and plows it in again, we are very sympathetic to that, so we are looking at ways to mitigate that.”

Lee said the city will start incorporating helpful tips in its newsletter to give residents a better understanding of what they can do while clearing their property to give the street crews a boost. He also said the city will be acquiring a snow gate to be installed on at least one plow truck to test its effectiveness, although Lee himself expressed reticence at the prospect. 

“I’ve talked to a lot of different municipalities lately and, for the most part, everybody is in agreeance that they’re not a very good piece of gear,” he said. “We’re still gonna try it, we’re open to it because we don’t have one in the city, so we’re gonna get one in here, we’re gonna test it out, and we’ll see if we like it.”

Another addition to the city’s snow removal arsenal will be a snow task force, which Lee said will be a dedicated group of specially trained city employees, ready to be called out at a moment’s notice to help assist in minor snow related issues as they might arise throughout the cleanup effort. 

“We’re obviously a community service based organization, and we want to do our part. That’s why we created the snow task force,” he said.

Lee said that in the days following a major snow event, street crews are busy clearing streets and helping out with other weather related issues such as getting cars out of ditches and animal carcasses off the side of the roads. The task force will be available to handle the smaller issues like clearing city sidewalks and making sure the public has access to city facilities.

Lee said it’s been an “all-hands-on-deck” approach to snow not just within the Public Works Department, but throughout the entire Spearfish city government. 

“I’m grateful and extremely impressed with the work ethic that these guys (have).” He said. “They’re coming out here, they’re doing a solid job, they’re giving it everything they literally can, and I’m very proud of it.”

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(1) comment

Mr. Silppyfist

I'm not sure we should be patting ourselves on the back for this one. The intersection at exit 14 was dangerous for a couple days after the storm, and there were piles of snow several feet high at the end of median curbing that made other intersections extremely dangerous.

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