WATERVILLE — An exhausted Mark Turner sat at his desk at the Public Works Department Monday morning, more than 20 hours into a shift that would last many more hours until he would get some rest.

Turner, Waterville’s public works director, is used to working long hours when the snow piles up outside and the wind whips it around. Last week, he put in 115 hours, but he is not complaining.

“It’s just part of the job,” said Turner, 61.

With back-to-back storms occurring last week that culminated in the blizzard Sunday night into Monday, public works employees were out plowing snow, sanding roads and clearing sidewalks for hours on end and getting rest when they could.

Although his crew is exempt from any rules limiting the number of hours they can drive in a storm, Turner said he tries to ensure they do not go beyond about 20 hours. If a storm runs 48 to 60 hours, for instance, the men try to break off and rest a while and then return to work. Turner said the department rule is that drivers live within a 20-mile radius of the city.

They all take pride in their work, he said, and “they give it their best each and every day.”

Last year, plow crews worked 21 storms through the end of March, and this year they were already at 24 as of Feb.12, according to Turner.

On Monday morning, 13 men were out driving trucks covering 82 miles of the city’s 307 roads that include more than 200 lane miles, as some roads have multiple lanes.

“We average probably 12 trucks because always one is in the shop being fixed. A broken wing post or chain or hydraulic lines — it could be most anything,” Turner said.

Things were going fairly well Monday morning as motorists were staying off the roads for the most part amid whiteout conditions.

“The equipment’s holding up,” Turner said. “The guys are tired, but luckily there was a 24-hour period between storms where we were able to get some rest.”

As department head, Turner directs personnel, calls in mechanics when needed and helps drivers if they encounter any problems, such as low-hanging wires or vehicles parked in the road.

“I usually go out and knock on doors and have them move their cars,” he said. “I’m the crew’s anchor to help them get through the storm. They know they have somebody here who can take care of any administrative needs, if police or fire are needed, dealing with public complaints and other issues.”

Residents might complain that their driveways are plowed in, for example, or that a mailbox was struck by a plow. Once in a while, someone will express thanks to public works employees.

“The thanks are very welcome when they come,” Turner said. “We’re not a department that creates a lot of happiness. We’re here to perform a service, and sometimes that service impacts people adversely, but it has to be accomplished. Roads have to be cleared. I think most people are keenly aware of what to expect during the winter and they’re used to it, especially if they’ve lived here a long time. We try to minimize those difficulties as best we can, but when there are large volumes of snow, it’s difficult to control the conditions that take place as far as high snowbanks and narrow streets — that sort of thing.”

It takes a plow driver three to four hours to cover a route, getting to every street, and then the roads fill up quickly with snow, especially in a storm such as Monday’s, according to Turner.

“That’s when people look out their window and say, ‘How come you haven’t been here yet?’ But we have.”

Visibility was sporadic for the drivers early Monday morning, and as the wind picked up, it became worse.

“It’s not great, but during daylight it’s a lot better for the operators,” Turner said. “Nighttime is difficult.”

The crew is out Monday working the roads until the snow stops and they have the roads cleaned up, according to Turner.

“I have a separate crew overnight, and they clean up the downtown, usually around 3 a.m.,” he said.

Turner, of China, had not eaten anything but a granola bar and water since noon Sunday, and by Monday morning he was looking forward to eating a turkey sandwich he had packed Sunday night. He was going to order pizza from a local eatery, but they had closed Sunday night.

Turner, the public works director for 11 years, said he loves working for the city.

“I love working for the residents and the people here,” he said. “Though I grew up in Fairfield, Waterville is my second home.”

He started working for the city in 1980 as a coordinator for community and economic development and eventually worked for the finance department and then public works in 1994 as assistant director for resources and operations. He later worked for two school districts as operations manager and then was Belgrade town manager. He returned to Waterville in 2006 to become public works director, where he now oversees 23 employees and a $3.7 million budget.

In addition to plowing and salting and sanding roads in winter, his crews maintain summer roads and the city’s fleet, facilities and traffic equipment, including signs and traffic lights, as well as pick up trash.

By Monday, Turner was concerned about winter operations supplies including salt and sand, he said.

“As of this week, we are pretty much at or beyond the budgeted amounts on all our overtime accounts, and the parts and equipment account will probably be over a little bit. We’ve had some significant repairs to some vehicles and some routine repairs over storms. The trucks may appear very durable and rugged and they are, but they do require certain levels of ongoing maintenance, which is getting more costly every year.”

The key issue this week will be finding time to remove the snow and haul it to the snow dump on College Avenue behind the railroad building, according to Turner.

He applauded his employees, who work hard and are very loyal, he said.

“They are really professionals in how they do their jobs under very difficult conditions — extreme weather conditions, extreme fatigue. When I call them, they come in — very good attendance. They do the best they can, and that’s what we’re here for.”

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

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