County begins plotting means to clear snow

Public Works says pure salt will clear some roads better than a mixture.
Tuesday, November 23, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 7:44 p.m. CDT, Friday, July 11, 2008

Getting ahead of the snow, Boone County officials are considering improvements to the county’s “snow fight” strategy. The Boone County Commission and laborers, however, are questioning some of the changes Public Works operations manager Chip Estabrooks said are necessary to improve snow removal.

“We have a pretty good track record in regards to snow removal,” said Northern District Commissioner Skip Elkin, whose concerns have been shared by Southern District Commissioner Karen Miller at previous work sessions.

“I don’t want to jeopardize the level of the service we’re providing. If the system isn’t broke — and I don’t know if it is —don’t fix it,” he said.

Estabrooks, however, said there is always room for improvement.

“How do I say this and still be diplomatic?” Estabrooks said. “I agree that we’re at the top when it comes to snow removal, but there is always improvements that can be made in regards to how well and how fast we’re able to do our job.”

Public Works has been given the nod to treat 66 hard-surface roads with pure salt instead of a rock-salt mixture. Estabrooks said the change will clear arterial roads more efficiently.

“We have to constantly evaluate the salt mixture we’re using on the roads,” Estabrooks said. “We want to make sure that we’re putting enough salt down so that we’re not wasting our time having to go back over the roads too many times. And we have to make sure that we’re not putting too much salt down and creating an environmental hazard.”

Estabrooks and Public Works Director David Mink are reworking some of the plow routes to consider upgrades in road surfaces such as gravel and chip and seal.

No action, however, has been taken on the other proposals, which include building additional salt-storage facilities and splitting the snow-fight schedule into two 12-hour shifts.

The county has one centrally located salt-storage facility at its headquarters on U.S. 63. Additional facilities would improve service to outlying areas and prevent back-and-forth travel to the central facility. Estabrooks said this idea, however, hasn’t moved beyond the brainstorming phase and won’t be realized for years.

A change to a split shift might be in the more immediate future. Presently, during the most severe storms, the entire maintenance staff works to exhaustion, at which point the department scales back to a “skeleton” crew that remains on call to respond to calls for emergency assistance.

Under a split 12-hour shift, half the crews would be called out initially, and the rest would take over halfway through, allowing the county to operate its plows around the clock.

Greg Mullanix, a heavy-equipment operator for Public Works and a steward for the laborers’ union, worries about the plan’s logistics, particularly how workers would be compensated if storms abate and they are sent home mid-shift. He’s reserving judgment until the county presents the union with a formal proposal.

The plan, however, still must overcome several stumbling blocks, which include the fact the county lacks enough personnel to adequately staff two 12-hour shifts. Public Workswill add two staff members this year, and next year’s proposed budget includes money for four more after Jan. 1, bringing the county total up to 45 .

Estabrooks thinks those additional workers will create a staff adequate to implement further changes, but he’ll still have to convince a reluctant commission.

“These are long-term ideas,” Elkin said. “Where we will end up down the road, I don’t know. We’re still very much debating and discussing these proposals.”

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