New Albany News

Snow crews push for 'top-notch service'

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Sixteen New Albany service department employees have worked diligently to keep the city's streets clean this winter, which has been challenging, they say.

"Obviously when it's this cold, it's harder to get the nice, clean black roads we like," said Jordan Gambill, a service worker.

Brian Strayer, the maintenance supervisor, said city crews try to keep the streets as clear as possible, but this winter has presented some challenges.

"This year, the biggest issue we're having is salt," Strayer said.

Last winter, New Albany used almost 1,900 tons of road salt, said city spokesman Scott McAfee. The city averages about 2,000 tons per winter, he said.

So far this winter, the city has used 2,400 tons of salt, McAfee said. About 200 tons were left in the salt barn at the end of last week, and the city was expecting delivery of 300 more tons.

The type of winter storm also affects crews' work, service workers said.

"The more you're plowing (in a heavy snow), the less salt you use," service worker Doug Wittman said. "You typically plow first, and then use salt."

Service worker Ken Gray said the frigid temperatures have affected the work this year, too.

He said the day shift was plowing during a heavy snow and the salt in the back of the trucks froze, making it difficult for the evening shift to use it.

The city has seven service workers and one supervisor available on each of two shifts.

Strayer said the city added four seasonal workers this winter.

He said the city is responsible for clearing streets only but he does receive calls from residents who don't understand how snow gets piled across their driveways after they've shoveled them clear.

"I try to be as consistent as possible to try to explain that the service that we offer is snow removal off the road," Strayer said. "We get the snow off of the roadway and it has to go where the driveway approaches are. People are responsible for clearing their own driveway approach."

Service worker Doug Hubbard said he tries to be courteous when plowing, and if he sees someone clearing a driveway, he will try to work on the other side of the street.

Mailboxes are another problem, since they often stick out into the road and the service trucks can't get close enough to clear snow beneath mailboxes, Gambill said. He said workers often weave around mailboxes in some neighborhoods when clearing snow.

Gambill also said in wet, heavy snows, mailboxes can get dislodged when a heavy clump of snow is being pushed by a city truck.

"Sometimes that's what hits the mailbox, not the plow," Gambill said.

Strayer said when residents complain that snow is blocking a mailbox or driveway, he or a supervisor goes out to inspect. If they find the situation is "excessive" compared to other homes on the street, they will help clear the obstruction if they can.

"If it's all the same thickness (in front of driveways), we can't come out and dig them out," Strayer said. "Same for mailboxes. We just don't have the capability to offer that service.

"Most of the time, people understand."

Strayer said crews have been dealing with exhaustion this year, too, because of the number of days they've worked. They work 12-hour shifts and are off for 12 hours, but they can be called back in, depending on the situation.

Wittman said even when he is home, sometimes it's hard to go to sleep because he anticipates getting a phone call and having to come back in.

"Guys working overnight have been coming in quite frequently because it's been snowing several days in row and they've had to respond several days and nights," Strayer said.

Another problem this year is the blades attached to the front of the trucks are wearing out, mechanic Steve Saunders said.

Saunders said he keeps one spare blade per truck, which hasn't been enough this year, and he is having trouble getting more delivered.

Blades fitted on larger trucks can last a couple of years, Saunders said, but blades fitted on smaller trucks last about 20 hours.

But regardless of the conditions and challenges, the snow must be cleared, and New Albany's workers "try to provide a top-notch service and do the best we can do," Strayer said.

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