Public works crews around central Maine have been working overtime the last few days trying to dig out from under more than 2 feet of snow, and local public works directors say they’ve already exceeded their snow removal budgets for the season.

There’s good news on the horizon, but crews first must deal with one last storm Wednesday night into Thursday before being able to breathe a little more easily.

“It’ll be a much-needed break,” said Augusta Public Works Director Lesley Jones. “The days are getting longer and the sun is getting stronger, which is good for us.”

Some areas of central Maine got more than 24 inches of snow Sunday and Monday, and forecasts for this latest storm Wednesday night range from 3 inches to 10 inches of heavier, wetter snow. But come this weekend, the temperature will climb into the mid-40s, according to Thomas Hawley, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service’s forecast center in Gray.

“The roads will get clear and it’ll give road crews a break,” Hawley said. “It’ll be a 7-to-10 day break from the really stormy weather.”

Jones said her department needs another two or three weeks of a concerted snow removal effort to catch up to all the snow that fell over the last two weeks. Her department’s snow removal budget is around $900,000, and Jones estimates the department already has used more than 80 percent of the available money.

“We’ve even hired contractors to help with daytime snow removal for the first time since the winter of 2014-2015,” Jones said. “We were supposed to have a long weekend this weekend, but because of the amount of snow, we’re probably going to have some of our crew working (Presidents Day).”

Augusta Street Superintendent Jerry Dostie said the city typically gets about 78 inches of snow per winter, and so far this season 76.5 inches have fallen. In just the last week, the city has gotten about 41 inches, Dostie said.

“It’s been a real struggle to get this all at once, because the roads get real narrow pretty quickly,” Dostie said. “There’s plenty of work to do.”

He said the crew saved a lot of sand last year when there wasn’t nearly as much snow, so the city still hasn’t needed to buy sand. But Dostie said the city is about 25 percent over its salt budget, so any break in stormy weather will be appreciated.

“It’ll be nice to get back to a routine schedule, but there’s plenty of work to do to remove snow from side streets and make sure sidewalks are clear for pedestrians,” he said.

The city of Waterville has used nearly 80 percent of its supplies, including salt, sand, liquid calcium and sidewalk pellets, and about 80 percent of the $160,000 that was budgeted for such supplies, according to Mark Turner, director of the city’s Public Works Department.

“As of the beginning of the month, we had about $50,000 left in that account,” Turner said Wednesday.

Highway departments also are getting squeezed on overtime accounts, as storms occur frequently and on holidays, nights and weekends.

Waterville’s overtime account for five divisions of the Public Works Department is $51,500, and already spending is over that by about 20 percent, Turner said.

ICE AND OVERTIME

In Gardiner, Public Works Director Tony LaPlante said ice has been the department’s biggest problem, not the heavy amounts of snow. He hasn’t had to buy any sand, but LaPlante said they are going to exceed their salt budget.

“We’ve had several storms that have turned to ice, and the only way you can treat the roads is with salt,” LaPlante said. “We probably use about one-third of what we use with an ice storm for snowstorms.”

LaPlante said the trouble with ice is that the roads need to be treated continually. When there is a snowstorm, crews can treat the roads early, especially the hills and intersections, and then again at the end of the storm.

“My guys would much rather have it be 15 degrees and snowing sideways than 19 degrees and raining,” he said. “Snow is manageable, but with ice, it goes through so much of our resources.”

The Augusta and Gardiner departments expect cleanup of this latest storm to be quicker than that of Monday, when blizzard conditions existed much of the day and made traveling on roads dangerous. The temperature in central Maine is expected to be around 30 degrees, which LaPlante said is in their favor.

“I haven’t totally decided how to manage the cleanup, because I want to wait and see what happens tonight,” he said. “We’ll probably have a significant amount of night work the next few days so we can get caught up.”

In Skowhegan, Road Commissioner Greg Dore said the highway department has spent more than $160,000 of its $200,000 supplies budget.

“It’s going to be close,” Dore said. “My real concern is the overtime. I’m definitely going to go over on overtime.”

Not often do accounts become so diminished that Waterville must ask for money out of the city’s general fund, which requires a vote of the City Council, according to Turner, who has been director 11 years. If a material and supplies account becomes depleted, for instance, officials use surplus accounts in other budgets within the department, he said.

But it’s not only supply accounts that become taxed when there are many storms in one season.

“Our vehicle and equipment parts accounts are going to go over,” Turner said. “We budgeted about $150,000, and I believe we’re going to be over on that. At the beginning of the month, there was $35,000 left.”

GETTING TIRED

Meanwhile, crews are also becoming weary and taxed.

“Our guys are very, very tired and the temperament is starting to appear,” Turner said. “There are things they want to do at home as far as their own snow removal. They’ve been away from home for long periods of time.”

Dore’s department in Skowhegan budgets for 4,500 cubic yards of salt, 4,500 yards of sand and 9,000 gallons of the ice-melting product, Ice B’ Gone, for winter roads.

With at least six weeks more of troublesome weather to come, he said supplies will dwindle.

“Last year, I didn’t even use half of my supplies. I didn’t use any overtime to speak of,” said Dore, who has been road commissioner 25 years.

Dore said he doesn’t remember a time when his crew has worked so many weekends in the winter.

“OT is killing me,” he said. “The guys are getting tired.”

He said that normally crews will go into the downtown to haul snow away after cleaning up from a storm, but because they worked so much over the last few days, it does not make sense to do it twice, with another storm occurring Wednesday into Thursday, so they will do it all at once.

Meanwhile, Turner said that as more and more storms arrive, his department must make all sorts of decisions on use of supplies, depending on the types of storms that occur. When there are many storms, as has happened this season, the department might decide to implement a “reduced level of service.”

“We adjust according to the storm and the type of precipitation, but if it’s just snow, we’ll probably just be sanding hills and intersections on the side streets until the storm is completed,” Turner said.

He said crews will continue to clear, salt and sand main arteries as a high level of priority.

Turner said he learned on the noon news Wednesday that snowfall into Thursday is predicted to be less than expected — 4 to 8 inches rather than 8 to 12.

“That’s a big plus for us,” he said Wednesday. “Colder temps are going to stay in the air, so that will help, too. It should be a fairly routine storm tonight.”

Both Turner and Dore say that when drivers stay off the roads during storms, the job of clearing them is made much easier.

Jason Pafundi — 621-5663

[email protected]

Twitter: @jasonpafundiKJ

 

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

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