A City of Hastings plow truck clears Pine Street near the middle school during the early season snowfall. Photo by Bruce Karnick
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Plows tackle 100 miles of streets in each storm

 

THE DEDICATED CLEAN-UP CREW

The average width of a resident’s property that touches the street in Hastings is 66 feet. Clearing that is the top priority for each and every home owner when it snows. For the City of Hastings Public Works Department, they need to worry about a little more than 66 feet. They need to worry about roughly 100 miles of Hastings roads with a total of six plow trucks and a few other support vehicles, according to Public Works Supervisor Joe Spagnoletti. “We have 11 guys and 10 pieces of equipment,” said Spagnoletti. Six plow trucks handle the majority of the work on snow days, roughly 17 miles of roads each time it snows per truck for one pass on a road. Each truck averages three or four passes on each road making each plow route roughly 51-68 miles of driving on average for an average snow fall. This is when it is a one and done kind of storm, the kind that lasts a few hours or maybe half a day and is gone. When there is a definitive end to a snowstorm, the city can be responsible with its resources. “I think just the big balancing of resources that we just don’t have the ability to plow 24/7,” said Spagnoletti. “One of our core values is respect of resources, if you don’t do that, you’re just driving in circles, burning money. People probably want to see us out there all the time, but it’s just not financially feasible. It’s not feasible from a labor standpoint either. I think it has been a while since we’ve had a big snow like that and people forget the inconveniences that are associated with major storms. Usually,

it’s three inches here and two weeks later it’s three inches there.”

To be respectful of resources includes being respectful of not only the taxpayer but also the employee. For a series of storms like we had in the last few weeks, how do you balance that side of things with the fact that 30 plus inches of snow was dumped on Hastings in a week? It felt like it was snowing nonstop for days. To have plow crews out 24/7 is really impossible for smaller towns even in Minne-snow-ta.

A snowstorm of that magnitude means city crews need to focus on the primary roads, roads like Pine St., 15th Street, Pleasant, General Sieben, Southview/Westview, roads that are the central connectors to other parts of town.

“Our focus is the state of the primaries and to keep them clean because they do have the most volume. Most people are not more than two blocks from a primary street, so you are relatively close to a better maintained street. That is kind of the tough part with six trucks and some other heavy equipment that goes out. We have to kind of balance when are we doing the most good you know, there is a resource management side of this that,” added Spagnoletti.

Many residents are not aware of the planning that needs to go into the resource management side. Spagnoletti looks at the expected snow fall patterns to determine if they keep a plow out at night or pull them and plan for an early start the next morning after the snow has stopped falling.

“There was just no point to keep our guys out until 10 at night and bring them back at four in the morning knowing the roads are going to be in the same condition regardless. There’s a big expense for salt and hours and we do manage that because we are a smaller town. That’s why the call was made to stop plowing after rush hour and come back at four or five in the morning and then plow it. We are always hoping to be plowing once the snow stops,” explained Spagnoletti.

One nice thing for the City of Hastings is, some of the streets are not part of the City’s routes. Highways 316, 61 and 55 are taken care of by MNDoT and Dakota County takes care of County Road 47 as well as Second Street from the Confluence out past the hospital and Schaar’s Bluff back to Highway 55.

There are other things that the city needs to deal with. Once the snow stops, more work begins. There are several spots around town that plowing is not enough. Downtown for example, the plows need to leave windrows on the streets until they can come back and pick up that snow to move it elsewhere.

“We come back usually the day after but in this case several days later because it snowed for a few more days,” explained Spagnoletti. “We loaded up the snow into the trucks with a loader or snowblower wherever we need to and move it to strategically placed piles around town to cut down the haul times.”

Downtown, the snow gets moved to the back lot of Lake Rebecca and it is at least a half of a day process. Part of the process of clearing snow from downtown is plow crews hitting the area before shops open and people start parking on the street. Business owners shovel the sidewalks into the parking spaces and the city clears it from there. They also remove snow from neighborhoods and cul-de-sacs as needed.

Throw in the weirdness of the wet and heavy snow we have received and the rain and warm temperatures of just this week, and keeping road clear gets tricky. The wet and heavy stuff simply packed down, and even the large grader could not break it up to the asphalt. With the above freezing temperatures and the rain the last few days, Spagnoletti hoped his crews could clean up some of the off-road course like side streets.

Sometimes, the crews don’t need to plow, but they have to apply treatments to the roadways. That is what the focus was a week ago during the Wednesday ice storm that hit.

From a budgetary standpoint, how much money does the city spend on clearing snow?

“It’s hard to quantify service. We already own and use the dump trucks year-round regardless. We have the guys year-round. The overtime hours budgeted are done so for the year, not the job. So, to say snow is specifically just this, it would be really hard to get a number that I’d feel comfortable standing behind,” explained Spagnoletti.

It makes some sense when you look at it. The trucks are used year-round, the crews work year-round doing other things. The interesting piece is the replacement of the trucks. Hastings uses the same rating system the county uses that scores the truck on a variety of things. Once the score falls below a certain threshold, they start looking to replace it. Hastings ordered a replacement truck in the fall of 2021, and they still have yet to see even the basic chassis of the vehicle. Once they receive the new truck, the old one will be traded in.

What can residents do to help keep roads clear?

First, remember that any snowfall of two inches or more constitutes a snow emergency and that means all vehicles need to be off the street.

“Probably the number one in one thing is garbage cans and cars,” Spagnoletti said immediately. “That that’s one quick way to get a pile out in front of your driveway because our trucks are scooping out to go around cars. And as they’re trying to crash back into the curb, that snow is going to release right there. If we can just stay with the curb and we get it nice and smooth or as close to the curb as we’re going to get.”

So, what do you do with the garbage and recycling cans?

Do not put them in the street. Put them inside the curb line by a few inches on your driveway or cut a space into the snowbank for them to sit, but remember, the garbage trucks need three feet on each side of the cart to pick them up safely.

Another thing you can do to help is clear your property line not only to the curb, but a foot or two in. Use the snowblower to clear to the curb, then, on the trip back, put the rear drive wheel up on the curb to clear out a spot for newly plowed snow to go. This dramatically cuts down on the deep, thick stuff from being planted at the driveway.

Also, keep in mind that it is against the law to deposit snow into the public roadways. Residents cannot put snow in the street for the plows to take away.

Another thing to remember, if you have a fire hydrant on your property, help the firefighters by keeping at least five feet cleared around the hydrant. Those five minutes you spend clearing that space could mean the difference between life and death.

Snow removal, especially when there is a monster set of storms that come through in a short period of time, is a tricky situation to navigate. Crews work long hours and deal with a lot of situations that dramatically change their working conditions. This is work that does not go unnoticed but certainly is something we take for granted when things do not go as expected. Thankfully, we live in a society that has these services we can rely on when they are needed.

January 18, 2023