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Snow removal a hot topic as winter nears

Monday, November 26, 2007 | 11:15 p.m. CST; updated 2:31 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

COLUMBIA — The Hindmans were stuck.

Like the rest of Columbia on Dec. 1, 2006, Mayor Darwin Hindman and his wife, Axie, pulled back the curtains to discover a winter wonderland in their front yard.

Fifteen inches of snow wouldn’t deter Columbia’s first couple from their weekend plans. But it sure made it difficult.

The Hindmans picked up Axie’s ski poles, strapped on snow boots and made their way downtown to the bazaar at Calvary Episcopal Church a day later. The 2.7 miles would have taken eight minutes by car.

“It was beautiful walking, but very difficult walking,” Axie Hindman said. “I think it took us 45 minutes.”

With mild temperatures over the past weeks, it’s hard to believe that Mother Nature dumped 15 inches of snow on Columbia a year ago Saturday.

The wonderland turned into a nightmare for residents and public officials alike. The storm prompted Gov. Matt Blunt to declare a state of emergency, and it left Columbia nearly paralyzed. Weeks later, another storm dumped a layer of ice on the city, further confounding Columbia Public Works crews.

Ultimately, the department spent $728,000 to remove snow and ice, four times the $168,000 it had budgeted.

Although the storm is considered a 10-year event, city staff wants to be sure residents don’t experience déjà vu should another severe storm strike. City Council took up the issue in a work session Monday.

This year’s snow budget only increased by $2,000, and few personnel have been added.

But one key addition is Public Information Specialist Jill Stedem, who says improvements have been made without taking big money from the budget.

Perhaps the biggest change has been redefining Columbia’s streets. Sixty miles of streets are now considered “second priority” by the city, almost twice as many as this time last year.

These streets will be plowed only after “critical” and “first priority” streets have been taken care of.

Critical streets are those with steep inclines or hairpin turns, while first priority streets are major thoroughfares such as Broadway.

Public Works Operations Director Mary Ellen Lea hopes prioritizing major streets in each subdivision, rather than plowing one entire neighborhood at a time, will allow residents to get out more easily.

“Hopefully this will provide a much better service to the citizens,” Lea said.

Residents’ question how long it will take to clear their streets, but officials are wary of making guarantees. There are too many variables with both traffic and weather to even begin to set goals, Lea said.

One suggestion made Monday night was to eliminate plowing of residential streets when snowfall is less than four inches. That is the policy in Springfield, and Fourth Ward Councilman Jerry Wade agreed it was a good idea.

“(Residents) got the street open before (city trucks) even get to us,” Wade said.

The city has five new vehicles available for plowing, in addition to 18 large snow plow trucks. The “new” vehicles were already in the city’s arsenal and were simply outfitted with plows and spreaders.

There are also plans to add GPS locators on the large trucks, with the hope of improving communication with the public.

Officials will issue press releases twice daily during major events, and online maps will be continuously updated with plowing progress.

This year, the city has also added a salt dome with a capacity for 4,000 tons of salt, 600 tons of cinders and 6,500 gallons of calcium chloride. The facility will be tapped when Grissum Building supplies run out.

Missourian reporter Elyse Huang contributed to this report.


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