Steamboat Springs When you’ve turned in after watching the first significant snowfall of the season coat the trees and low clouds settle over the horizon, Ron Berig stays awake continuing to watch and wait.
At 1 a.m. Friday, Berig made the call. Headlights switched on, scoria was loaded into the backs of dump trucks, and pickups and plows that hadn’t seen action since spring once again were clearing Steamboat’s streets.
Berig is the streets superintendent for the city of Steamboat Springs Public Works department and monitors the weather when there's potential for snow.
“It’s an expectation from the community to always have clean streets when they open the door,” Public Works Director Chuck Anderson said Friday.
And while residents might not think about how those streets get clean until 10 inches falls in their driveways, city staff is planning far in advance of the season’s first snow.
One of the first items that has to be secured is the city’s supply of scoria. Rather than sand or salt, Anderson said, the volcanic rock scoria is used because it’s better for the air and drainage. The contract is put out to bid, and the city orders a certain amount.
“They keep that bid open and take delivery throughout the winter,” Anderson said.
In September, the fleet crew starts to inspect the equipment and trucks that are used to plow and grade. Any welding or maintenance is taken care of, and the plows are reattached to the dump trucks that saw other duties during the summer.
“We’ve got seven people out there right now,” Anderson said about the streets employees working to clear Friday’s snowfall.
The department is in the process of hiring its seasonal drivers for winter, he said, and they typically make the switch to 24-hour, on-call coverage by Nov. 1, depending on the weather.
“It takes about an entire season for a new hire to get comfortable driving a grader or truck,” Anderson said about the experience of driving on Steamboat’s sometimes steep and narrow roads. “It is a pretty big learning curve.”
Some of the streets employees have spent 20 years learning the flow of a shift and what areas need more attention.
Drivers are divided into shifts that start at 5 a.m., noon and 6 or 7 p.m.
“There’s experience on all three shifts,” Anderson said. “It’s from learning, from going through and doing it.”
On Friday morning, he said, the crew knew the west side of Steamboat seemed a little bit warmer and to concentrate there as the heavy snow would be stressing limbs and trees.
Streets crews clear limbs that have fallen in the right-of-way.
For residents who’ve had tree limbs break and fall, public works employees will be collecting them Monday through Wednesday, Anderson said. He said residents should drag the limbs to the curb, and public works employees will run them through a woodchipper. However, if it continues to snow, they’ll wait until after the weather clears.
The year-round employees who’re out on the roads now are coming off a summer full of striping, paving and culvert work and headed into a long winter. There’s no set amount of snow that sends street crews into action, Anderson said. It could be an inch or it could just be slick roads.
“They don't get time off during snow season,” he said about the drivers. “They’ll go six months without a day off.”
This year, Anderson said, he’s trying to fix that and get some extra staffing so his employees can have a weekend off work.
To reach Michael Schrantz, call 970-871-4206, email mschrantz@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @MLSchrantz
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