Local snow removal crews strive to keep up with relentless storms

Jefferson County snow removal crews work on 50 North about a mile east of Ririe Jan. 22.

It has been a busy season for local snow removal crews.

A big storm welcomed in the new year and the snow and wind kept coming through January, with more storms causing school closures and numerous slide-offs in February.

Meanwhile, county and city workers have been hitting the roads in plows, salt and brine trucks and pickups, almost non-stop at times.

“It’s been a challenge,” said Dave Walrath, Jefferson County public works administrator. “I think at one point in January, our guys worked 14 days in a row, 10 to 14 hours a day.”

Walrath said all hands have been on deck, with 16, sometimes 17 employees plowing on the east side of the county and four on the west side. He said between Oct. 1 and Feb. 5, county crews put in about 4,430 hours. He said 3,970 of those hours were put in between Dec. 1 and Feb. 5.

“We have damaged a few mailboxes, a few fences, but it’s not completely unavoidable when you have storms like this,” Walrath said.

He said overall, the crew have been working hard to keep up with the onslaught.

Mitch Bradley, Rigby public works director, said he has seven crew members managing the snow in the city. He said they can only plow when four or more inches of snow fall, however. Anything below that, and Bradley said crews will only salt and brine the roads.

“Where it only snows only one or two inches, my snow budget won’t allow me to push that,” he said.

Bradley said staying on top of the snow has been “a constant battle” and said many employees have received significant overtime from working stormy holidays and long weeks.

After being plowed off the roads, snow is removed from Rigby and sent to a now-full dump site on First West, or to a secondary dump site at Jefferson County Fairgrounds, which Bradley said is one-third full. Bradley said city workers load the snow into trucks operated by independent contractors the city pays to haul the snow out. He said those costs add up and have put a strain on the city’s finances.

“Truthfully, if we have another three good storms, my budget will be gone,” Bradley said Feb. 5.

Walrath said Jefferson County does not have a set budget for snow removal, though compensatory time or comp time — which the county uses in lieu of overtime — is limited. He previously asked county commissioners to increase the limit of comp time, which they approved. When asked Feb. 5 if he would be asking for an additional increase, he said “affirmative.”

“It just depends on what happens weather-wise, but I know the trend that we’re in, and it just seems like every couple of days we’re getting more,” Walrath said.

Walrath and Bradley both said this winter brought more snow than last winter. However, Bradley said this winter is not unusual for the area in terms of the amount of snow and plowing challenges.

Walrath said “it’s right up there” with other recent challenging winters. He said this is the first year since he began working at Jefferson County that they have had to use the snow blower. He attributes the need for the blower to high winds causing snow to drift more than in years past.

“When we hit 40, 50 mile-an-hour winds, it’s a difficult challenge, I’m not going to lie,” he said.

Walrath said he wants to remind people not to plow driveway snow into the road as it can freeze and damage snow removal equipment.

Bradley said city residents should also ensure they remove their vehicles from the roadway to make room for plows to come through. He said going over streets twice unnecessarily costs a lot and said cars may need to be towed as the money for snow removal dwindles.

“The closer the budget gets to running out, I’m going to have to start cracking down on it a little bit,” Bradley said.