Early winter wonderland leads to headaches for TRF

by April Scheinoha

    The “perfect storm” may lead to some changes in snow removal by the city of Thief River Falls. At its meeting Tuesday, Nov. 7, the Thief River Falls City Council heard about the city’s response to last weekend’s snowstorm and problems with snow removal.
    The Public Works Committee is expected to discuss an earlier start date for calendar parking at its next meeting Wednesday, Nov. 15 at 4:30 p.m. at City Hall. The committee is also expected to discuss whether the city should be allowed to declare a snow emergency in certain situations.
    That discussion will occur as a result of last weekend’s snowfall. The Public Works Department worked more than 200 hours over the course of the weekend, according to Acting Public Works Director Mark Borseth. He indicated that employees followed the city’s snow removal policy to the best of their ability.
    “I don’t think anyone is accusing them of not working hard,” replied Council Member Josh Hagen.
    Preparations for the storm began before the crew went home Friday. At 2 a.m. Saturday, the street department foreman reported for work and called in his crew. Per the city’s snow removal policy, the crew plowed main arteries, emergency routes and the Central Business District since more than two inches had fallen. Even though calendar parking doesn’t go into effect until Wednesday, Nov. 15, the crew plowed city streets as it would on a Saturday during calendar parking.
    The crew tried plowing snow from alleyways on Saturday. However, Borseth said the ground wasn’t frozen and the crew wouldn’t have made any headway without a lot of damage. Typically, the crew leaves the snow there until wheels have packed it down and enabled the crew to remove the snow more easily.
    Borseth said parks maintenance employees cleaned sidewalks and city parking lots, including those of Falls Liquor and the Thief River Falls Public Library.
    The snow continued to fall as the crews worked Saturday. Street Department employees returned at 2 a.m. Sunday to replow Priority 1 areas and arteries. Then they cleaned Priority 3 areas, which include all township and county roads  for which the city has an agreement. Borseth said that parks maintenance employees cleared trails, sidewalks and parking lots.
    Borseth added that the street crew returned at 12 a.m. Monday to clear the downtown area. After finishing the downtown area, the crew began plowing snow from the avenues as it would during calendar parking. The crew plowed alleyways in the eastern half of the city at that time. The other half was plowed after garbage collection there.
    “Staff did follow the snow removal policy as we outlined for them,” said Mayor Brian Holmer.
    That’s not to say there weren’t any problems. This was the first time that the Streets/Sanitation Department and parks maintenance employees removed snow as part of the consolidated Public Works Department. Borseth noted their efforts were hampered by the timing of the snowfall, which occurred before calendar parking was in effect. He suggested an earlier start date for calendar parking in the future. Borseth noted an earlier start date would also facilitate leaf vacuuming and street sweeping.
    The crew attacked the snow without its new salt spray machine. Council Member Steve Narverud noted the machine would stop ice from forming and heat up some of the existing ice. Borseth expected that machine would be ready within a week or two weeks.
    Timing wasn’t the only issue. As he had mentioned last year, Hagen suggested that city crews re-plow city roadways when temperatures increase. He   raised concerns about low-riding cars traveling down city roadways. Hagen said there were chunks of ice four to six inches thick in the middle of a roadway.
    Slush was an issue for resident Anthony Bolduc. He encouraged the city to issue a snow emergency in certain circumstances. He noted the neighborhoods aren’t being plowed during situations similar to the past weekend’s events. “We all pay our taxes,” Bolduc said.
    Council Member Jerald Brown defended the snowplow operators and pointed the finger at the public. “He could not make it down some of these streets if he had his wing down,” said Brown, who referred to dumpsters, construction trailers and campers parked on city roadways. He also noted that landlords need to provide off-street parking for their tenants, especially if they rent to six students.
    Council Member Curt Howe agreed with Brown regarding dumpsters, construction trailers and campers. He said the police department needs to cite or give warnings to people who leave those items on city roadways for more than 48 hours.