FARMINGTON – Salt sheds full: check. Sand piles ready: check. Snow plows ready: check.

Experienced public works director at the helm: check.

The town of Farmington, nestled in the foothills of the mountains of western Maine, is now ready for winter.

Leading up to winter this year, there was uncertainty as to whether the transition into a busy time of year for the town’s Public Works Department would go this smoothly. Public Works Director Denis Castonguay was set to retire Dec. 7.

But the town couldn’t find a replacement who had the balance of technical skill and management qualities needed to run a public works department effectively.

So Castonguay is going to work one more winter.

“It’s getting harder and harder in this day and age to find a candidate that has that balance,” Town Manager Richard Davis said recently. “In the old days, the position was mainly geared towards operating equipment; but now, like all jobs, it’s much more complex in terms of management and technology.”

After getting 15 applications for the position, Davis found one suitable replacement. But the candidate lived more than the required maximum 30 minutes away and couldn’t relocate.

“We’re skunked,” Davis told the selectmen in October. “We’re back to square one.”

With a dire need for someone qualified and experienced enough to navigate Farmington through winter, Davis asked Castonguay if he would postpone his retirement. Graciously, Castonguay agreed.

“It’s going to be very difficult to find a younger person to step into this position.” Castonguay said. “They have to gain a very good understanding of business, public relations and management.”

And while handling the business and public relations end of the job is a challenge Castonguay has enjoyed, he said that preparing for the unexpected weather Farmington has to offer is a challenge all of its own, but one he knows he can handle after 10 years in the job.

“Pushing off retirement didn’t really bother me,” Castonguay said from behind his desk at the public works garage on Thursday, a gray and icy morning.

YEAR-ROUND PREPARATIONS

A week and a half into what was supposed to be his retirement, Castonguay still has not had to send any of his crew out to plow.

“I can’t remember a winter in Farmington where it hasn’t snowed this late (into December),” he said.

Several mornings, public works trucks have been out spreading sand and salt on the roads to combat and melt a few icy coatings that Farmington has had — the closest thing the town has gotten to winter weather yet.

Typically, public works plans for 24 snowstorms in order to prepare its crew and resources for a winter season, and preparation begins in the summer.

By the end of October — around the time this year the town realized it would have to keep Castonguay on — the town’s storage sheds are full of 5,000 yards each of salt and sand, and all eight of its plow trucks have received maintenance inspections. The advanced preparations are necessary because crews never know for certain when they’ll have to jump into gear and hit their plow routes, Castonguay said.

Castonguay, who worked in the Livermore Falls Public Works Department for 16 years before coming to Farmington, oversees a crew of eight. He said that is not many people to manage Farmington’s 120 miles of roads.

As the director, his expertise is needed first to make sure the roads are cleared in an organized and efficient manner.

In Farmington, where snow accumulation can vary throughout the town, the job takes an additional familiarity with mountain towns.

“It may be freezing rain in Jay, but it is snowing in Farmington,” Castonguay said. “The weather in Farmington alone might vary. Because we’re in the foothills, we have areas in town that might see no precipitation at all, but then there are some spots we’ll actually have to go out and plow.”

Castonguay said he has come to find that the north end of town, heading toward Rangeley, the east end of town heading toward Industry and the parts bordering Temple often get the most snow and require the most attention of the department’s plows.

FIRST AND LAST CALL

Intrusions into his personal time are part of the job description.

When a storm happens, or is predicted to happen, Castonguay is the first call, regardless of day or time, in a line of coordinated planning phone calls to get Farmington’s roads safe and clear.

“My phone is the first and last one to ring,” said Castonguay, who lives in nearby Wilton with his wife, Barbie. “I’m 64 years old and I’ve had to walk away from too many family and holiday dinners.”

Given that the department wants to make sure the roads are as clear as possible for travelers the morning after a storm, he’s also there at the end. This often means long workdays to get the job done.

As long as there are drivers on the road, Castonguay makes the call on when they need to be taken off in order to get some rest before going back out to plow.

Typically, he likes to switch out drivers after a 12-hour plowing shift, although the small staff size sometimes results in 16-hour shifts.

“That’s all the responsibility of a public works director,” Davis said. “He may not be in the truck pulling the levers, but he makes sure those who are are doing so safely and effectively.” Davis said that through the years, Castonguay has done a great job.

With warm weather delaying this year’s winter season, Castonguay said his crew members are getting anxious to start their normal winter routines.

But Castonguay and his family, instead of awaiting the first snowfall, are counting down the days until April 1.

When he finally retires once winter’s over, what will he do with his time?

Castonguay doesn’t even have to think about it.

“Nothing at all.”

Lauren Abbate — 861-9252

[email protected]

Twitter: @Lauren_M_Abbate

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.