SPEARFISH — With winter just on the horizon, city crews in Spearfish have a new removal plan.

“The biggest change is preparation and training,” said Public Works Director Dustin Lee. “Prior to this we just kind of played snow like a pick-up game where we tackled it reactionary, not really with much planning.”

Lee said that one of his main focuses since becoming the interim public works director in April has been a total overhaul of the city’s snow removal procedure. Now that his position has become permanent, Lee said he’s excited to see the new plan he and his team has developed in action.

As part of the planning and preparation, Lee said he called together multiple city departments and put together a mock snowstorm, wherein all departments involved in snow removal went through the motions of the new plan.

“We had done it on paper, but this was the first time we were actually out in public doing it,” he said.

Crews even drove plow trucks through town and designated route markers and snow placement locations. After the exercise, the crews got back together and discussed the operation.

“We debriefed everything that we learned and modified the plan a little bit with some tweaks here and there and now we’re that much better for it,” he said.

Lee said the city will continue to run drills like this at least once a month until the snow actually falls.

Another pillar of Lee’s plan is how the city will handle the snow once it accumulates.

“We went through street by street, and we decided where we were going to plow to the center, and where we were going to plow curb to curb,” Lee explained.

Lee said the new plan is to take advantage of Spearfish’s wider roads and move more snow into the center of the streets, which will keep piles out of residential driveways and give city crews more time to collect and haul the snow.

“We are moving a lot of snow to the middle of the streets now, so coming out of your driveway and taking a left right after we’ve plowed might not happen,” he said. “But we at least won’t be snowing in your driveway as much as we did in the past.”

Lee said with snow crews no longer preoccupied with second or third passes clearing driveways, they would be free to haul the snow from the center of the streets to the designated dump sites, which will save the city a significant amount in hiring fewer contractors to haul the snow.

“You’ve got somebody charging $115 an hour just waiting in a line of 15 trucks to get loaded with snow, and then they would take it all the way to the Rubble Site and dump it,” he explained. 

Lee said the city is contracting two additional sites within city limits to act as designated snow dump sites, which will cut the cost and time it takes hauling it to the Rubble Site on Highway 85.

“We’re also not going to do it immediately,” he said.

As long as the line of traffic is clear for vehicles, Lee said there should be no rush to remove snow piled up in the center of the streets.

“Especially is the weather is going to be favorable for melting,” he said. “And then squishing; where we can actually just kind of beat that snow down, squish it out over the pavement and let Mother Nature take care of a lot of that for us.”

Lee said there will still be some places that would require an independent contractor; however, even that will be handled differently.

“Before, we had a contractor with no contract,” he said. “We would just call him up and say, ‘it’s snowing, we need you to go up there and take care of that.’ They did a great job, but the city had no ramifications in case it didn’t go well.”

The city will now bid out a seasonal contract for those areas of town where independent contractors are needed. Lee said this will help keep the show removal budget more manageable as it will enable the city to know exactly how much money they will need to set aside for contractors. In the event of a Winter Storm Atlas type snow event, the city will also have an RFP (request for proposal) system in place for subcontractors to help as needed.

Winter Storm Atlas blew into the Black Hills Oct. 3, 2013. Rain turned to snow, which ended two days later stacked nearly six feet high in some places. Drifts were more than 20 feet deep.

“We’ll have an agreed upon price, we’ll have a contract with that company as well, and they’ll be our carrier for when we need to have some extra help come in,” Lee said.

Lee said as this is the first year the new plan will be implemented, it would be difficult for him to calculate an estimate of just how much the city will save; however, he did say that the city’s budget for contractors has decreased by $10,000 for the coming season.

“It’s a brand new process,” he said. “I did not want to be stuck half way through the year with some major catastrophe and having a new plan, we still needed some cushion in there.”

Lee also met with other departments to reprioritize the snow removal routes throughout the city.

In addition to the procedural changes being made to snow removal, Lee is also planning ahead for the clean up after the fact. The previous salt and sand mixture used to melt ice and snow left street crews with a mess to clean up once it had done its job, now the city is moving to a straight salt mixture, which will eliminate the need to sweep up left over sand from the roads.

“We won’t have that cost again with this straight salt mixture that we’ll be putting down,” he said. “It’ll evaporate, it’s a biodegradable product.”

Lee said he and the city crews will need the patience and participation of citizens in order to be effective and efficient with the snow removal.

“Cleaning snow out of the city is a humungous effort, and we are fully dedicated to doing right, doing it efficiently, and doing it safely,” he said. “Removing cars from those priority routes is going to be important.”

Lee said to keep an eye on the city website and a new Facebook page that will be going live to help keep residents informed of weather predictions and what they need to do to stay safe and avoid being in the way. He also added that the city is always at the public disposal with any questions, concerns or needs.

“We are a ‘yes’ organization.” Lee said. “Where going to do everything we can to help out.”

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