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Steamboat Springs Doug Marsh called his employees out of bed at 1 a.m. Saturday to see if they could gain a little edge in the snow wars.
"They understood that there was a lot of snow that had to be removed off Lincoln Avenue and the side streets, and for us to get off the roads by 6:30 a.m., we needed to start an hour early," Marsh, the fleet/street superintendent for the city of Steamboat Springs, said of his staff. "They understood that had to happen."
Marsh supervises the 17 snowplow and sanding truck operators who keep Steamboat's streets passable all winter.
Philo Shelton, the city's new public works director, said snowplow operators worked 12-hour shifts last week, from 2 a.m. until 2 p.m. After a long shift, they must be given 12 hours off.
That has caused Marsh to juggle his schedules for sanding truck operators, during a season in which crews have been working overtime due to snowfall on 34 of the last 44 days.
"I keep telling them it's going to stop soon," Marsh said. "But they know I lie every day. All we need is for it to quit snowing for four or five days so we can catch up."
The task has been made more challenging by the fact that Marsh has been unable to hire and retain a full compliment of 12 year-round employees and eight seasonal workers.
"I had two guys quit because they didn't want to put up with the long hours and being on call all the time," Marsh said. Starting sand truck operators make $18.10 an hour. The operators get paid overtime, and many of the veterans budget around it, Marsh said.
Snowplow operators put up with more than long hours. Marsh said they are required to eat lunch on the run.
"We don't let them stop for a 30-minute lunch," he said. "If people saw the plows parked on the side of the road during lunch," it would leave a bad impression.
Marsh said 95 percent of Steamboat residents appreciate what the crews are trying to accomplish, but it's tough for homeowners to watch the plows push a windrow of fresh snow into the driveway they just cleared. It's not rare for the operators to see an obscene gesture directed at them.
"We know that it's tough living in Steamboat," Marsh said. "We always say, 'If you can get out of your driveway, we'll make sure you get where you're going.'"
Shelton, who recently moved to Steamboat, said he has seen heavy snow periods in his previous positions in the Denver metro area. The difference here, he said, is that traffic flows normally in the midst of a heavy period of snow.
"It's amazing here compared to the metro area," Shelton said.
Marsh called his operators out extra early throughout the weekend because the incessant snow has made it difficult for the crews to do anything but plow the snow to the side of the road.
"We'd like to haul some snow away and get the snowblower out," Marsh said. "The streets are getting narrower."
In particular, Marsh fears the arrival of a January thaw before his operators have time to get the packed snow off the city streets. That could result in the appearance of heavy slush in the middle of the day.
"You can't slush every single street in an afternoon," he said. "If the slush freezes overnight," that's a problem.