In the wake of one of the worst snowstorms in recent years, some Columbia residents are wondering whether the city’s efforts to clear neighborhood streets of snow and ice are proceeding fast enough.
Calls from concerned residents in different parts of the city poured in over the weekend. Mary Ellen Lea, the operations manager of the Columbia Public Works Department, said callers generally wanted to know when plows would get to their neighborhoods.
“We’re responding and writing down areas as people call in,” she said Sunday afternoon. “We’re doing the best we can at the moment.”
Officials, though, say the questions and complaints they’re getting are to be expected, given that the city prepares not for the extremes, but for the most probable events.
Mayor Darwin Hindman said he thinks the city is well-equipped to handle an average mid-Missouri snowfall.
“We have to staff and we have to acquire equipment with the ideal amount of snow removal in mind,” he said. “If we have extra staff and equipment around that are not being used, we’d be severely criticized.”
Roger Wilhelm lives in the Green Meadows neighborhood, just off Green Meadows Road in south Columbia, and is a member of the neighborhood association. He said the city’s plowing efforts brought mixed results to his neighborhood.
“They have been by, but there are some streets that have not been done,” Wilhelm said. He said main arterial roads had been plowed, but some side streets in the subdivision remained unplowed Sunday afternoon. When crews clear streets, Wilhelm said, they did not always clear them entirely.
“(The plows) seem to drive down the same path each time, as opposed to working outward to clear the whole thing,” he said.
Wilhelm’s experience was common. Members of neighborhood associations around Columbia reported similar experiences, although the extent of plowing depended on where the neighborhoods were.
Henry Warren, of the King Meadows Neighborhood Association, said crews had yet to reach his neighborhood on Scott Boulevard.
“The snow is pretty well-packed where people can get their vehicles in and out,” he said. “I don’t think a front-wheel-drive vehicle, though, would get around pretty well.”
Still, he said, most residents were taking the situation in stride.
“I think people have the realization this is a pretty rare event,” Warren said.
Nile Kemble, of the Mexico Gravel Road Neighborhood Association, said he didn’t mind that residential roads had not been plowed.
“The only one (road) I’ve got a real concern about is Paris Road,” Kemble said late Sunday afternoon. “It’s about one-and-a-half lanes, and with the amount of traffic that uses it, I really think it’s necessary (to have it cleared).”
Streets Superintendent Jim McKinnon said the progress made in clearing Columbia’s streets is reasonable given the circumstances.
“We can’t hire the force and supply the equipment they do up north in Minnesota or Michigan,” he said. “We also don’t have wide streets like they do where there is a place for all that snow to go.”
He said the department electronically records complaints and takes them into account when it revises its Snow and Ice Control Operations Manual each year.
Currently, Columbia is divided into five districts, with each allotted three plows and one backhoe.
Streets are prioritized into three categories, with residential streets rated in the third of three tiers, meaning they are cleared only after First and Second Priority streets are completed.
As the city continues to expand, however, new subdivisions are being built farther from more developed infrastructure. That could force the city to re-evaluate how it goes about its snow clean-up operation, McKinnon said.
“So far, we think we’ve got a handle on what we’re doing,” he said. “If (developers) start building in areas with only one way in and one way out, then we may have to look at evaluating and adjusting our procedures.”
City Manager Bill Watkins said the recent storm and residents’ complaints might be an impetus for the city to do just that.
“Maybe it’s a good time to re-evaluate our snow removal priorities and see whether there are one or two areas that need to be changed,” Watkins said.