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White Christmas was huge challenge for work crews

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Photo by Hank Lohmeyer A series of winter storms in late December and early January left the Town of Cedaredge struggling to deal with the snowy mess. Even the new storm drains installed beneath Main Street had to be cleared of the buildup of snow and ice

The white Christmas of 2015 will be remembered by some for its picture postcard scenes of snow-covered mountain landscapes. But in Cedaredge it will be remembered as the perfect storm.

The multiple storms from Christmas Eve through the first week of January brought a blizzard of problems for public works street crews, town staff, motorists, town trustees and others.

And despite complaints from frustrated and sometimes angry citizens, the public works department got kudos from town officials for their response to the adverse situations that developed.

The events and disruptions occurring during the two weeks of winter weather were discussed last week at the January town board meeting. As temperatures plunged and snow mounted beginning Christmas Eve, public works department's advance plans for dealing with winter weather conditions were soon overwhelmed.

The remote snowfall observation cameras to be installed at Town Hall for observing conditions for plowing were mistakenly shipped by the supplier to Alaska, reported public works co-director Scott Lock.

This proved to be the least of the unexpected setbacks to challenge public works. After the relatively mild winters since 2011, town gear was found inadequate to the task of dealing with the Christmas perfect storm, Lock explained.

In his report, Lock explained, "As we started to get hit with snow right before Christmas, we had all the plows mounted on the trucks, had the sanders in the trucks loaded and tested with sand, the ATV plows were on. We thought we were ready."

But things went differently.

"The week of Christmas, snow came in and we had two of the three sanders go down one day after another. Since then we have had one thing after another go down," Lock reported.

As streets iced over and travel became difficult, phones were ringing at town hall, the town shops, at trustees' homes, and at the police department with citizen complaints.

Bad luck seemed to stalk the crews at public works as the foul winter weather settled in with cold temperatures, more snow, day after cloudy day, and more unexpected problems.

"On one morning we had two trucks that the lights were not working, but they were working the day before. Then as we were cleaning up the snow on West Main the first day, the John Deere tractor front end locked up and disabled that machine."

Lock explained the tractor had been the department's best one. The failure occurred as it was being driven, and narrowly avoided a collision with a vehicle.

Repairs will cost $6,000, Lock said. The town board told him to trade it in and go shopping for a new one to replace it. The town's 2016 budget already includes replacement of an older tractor, which will now be kept. Public works has also developed a multi-year replacement schedule for town equipment that was presented to trustees by department co-director Jerry Young during budget discussions last fall.

With truck-mounted sand spreaders breaking down, public works crews tried to keep the icy grade on Independence Avenue passable by hand shoveling sand/salt mix onto the roadways.

"A school bus slid off the roadway," Lock told trustees.

A "good Samaritan" got some blame for conditions on Independence Avenue. Lock said that as his crews worked to hand-shovel sand and salt onto the roadway, as soon as they were finished the good Samaritan came by and plowed it all off. It took some time for public works and police to identify the good Samaritan and ask him to confine his good deed-doing to his own property.

Police chief Dan Sanders

told trustees, "There were lots of slide-offs." Later he added for the Delta County Independent that up to a dozen or more vehicles, including a school bus on the Independence Avenue grade, experienced spin-outs or slid off roadways.

Officials found themselves at odds with public perceptions of events.Residents continued ringing town phones complaining of the bad streets, no work crews in sight, and no response from work crews. Lock explained that pushing a blade over already hard packed snow and ice only made the streets slicker.

Senior citizens complained of a treacherous walk across the Civic Center parking lot getting to their noon hot meal site. Town officials noted that plowing the Civic Center parking lot causes excessive damage to its dirt-and gravel surface.

Lock said he personally responded to a complaint and found a woman's Subaru blocked by only six inches of snow.

Town Administrator Katie Sickles said she personally checked on areas of complaint and found that crews had already been on the streets.

Chief Sanders said that the street workers responded to complaints his office forwarded to them.

The ongoing weather system brought no relief to the beleaguered work crews. Sub-freezing temperatures combined with cloud cover to keep ice on the roads. Clouds, cold, and tree canopy overhang made removing hard packed snow and ice nearly impossible on SW 2nd and 3rd streets, the council was told.

As complaints came in, crews had the town's 17 miles of two-lane streets (34 miles total) to deal with, trustee Ray Hanson noted. Trustee Nancy Sturgill added that crews needed to keep on working even when equipment broke down.

Sanding machine breakdowns occurred again and again. "We had no idea that all the equipment would break" Lock told the town board. The town equipment, judged to be serviceable, turned out not to be. "We tested the equipment and were prepared. We were all prepared and set up and had everything tested and ready."

By Jan. 7 weather was improving but the town still had setbacks. A sander went down again, forcing them to again resort to spread sand and salt by hand.

"By the end of that day we had more pavement showing everywhere in town than we had in a while. We have been trying to keep up the best we can with this old tired equipment. I don't control the weather."

Town officials were supportive of the public works crews. Trustee Al Smith said, "Thanks. You did a great job."

"We are truly doing the best we can," Lock said.

File photo The best tractor in the public works fleet “broke down” on work crews. Storm cleanup has been hard on equipment, with crews resorting to old-fashioned hand tools to spread salt and sand.
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