It’s been a wicked winter by most accounts, with deep snowdrifts, icy roads and relentless nor’easters that have already pushed many municipal snow removal budgets into the red.

And with another storm threatening to hit at midweek, there could be additional budget overruns for some southern Maine communities even after spring arrives Tuesday.

February rainstorms were big cost drivers for many cities and towns, coating roads with dangerous ice and forcing public works crews to repeatedly spread expensive salt and sand.

Scarborough crews have used nearly double the amount of salt anticipated to keep 364 lane miles of road clear, exceeding the $100,800 salt budget by $119,400, said Town Manager Tom Hall.

“The rain events that fell on frozen ground turned to ice and needed multiple applications of salt to keep the roads passable,” Hall said. “We budgeted for 1,600 tons of salt, but it will be closer to 3,100 tons of salt for the season.”

In tackling 25 winter weather events, Scarborough plow crews topped the $107,100 overtime budget by $5,571 and the $16,250 sand budget by $250, Hall said. To save money, when the storm intensity allowed, the usual 16 plow units were reduced to seven at night.

Unusually heavy snowstorms this year have also strained plowing budgets. Portland has received 89.8 inches of snow this season, about 3 feet above the average of 53.6 inches for this time of year, said Eric Sinsabaugh, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service office in Gray.

The storm that swept across Maine last Tuesday and Wednesday – the third nor’easter in less than two weeks – produced near-blizzard conditions at its peak and buried roads, sidewalks and driveways under snow measuring 14 to 26 inches.

The last two storms – March 8 and 13 – will likely push Portland over its nearly $1.37 million budget to clear about 560 lane miles of road and about 100 miles of sidewalks and trails, said Jessica Grondin, the city’s communications director.

Bills from plowing contractors are still coming in, she said, but even before the March 8 storm, the city had spent about $1.25 million, including all but $12,000 of its $377,000 overtime budget for snow removal. No additional salt or sand has been needed, although that could change if there’s another significant storm.

Grondin said the snow budget is in good shape, considering it anticipated getting 60 inches of snow.

“Considering the amount of snow we’ve had this year, the expenditure to date is pretty good,” she said.

Any cost overruns are expected to be covered by unspent money elsewhere in the budget, Grondin said.

South Portland plows when at least 2 inches of snow has fallen, using a crew of 18 public works employees, a variety of city plowing and sanding trucks, and 11 rigs operated by private plowing contractors.

So far, the city has exceeded its $181,000 overtime budget for snow removal by $66,000 and its $210,000 budget for contracted plowing by $30,000, said Greg L’Heureux, finance director.

Meanwhile, the $208,000 salt budget has about $33,000 left over from this season’s effort to treat 330 lane miles of road and 40 miles of sidewalks, said Doug Howard, public works director.

L’Heureux said the city maintains a snow removal reserve account to cover any cost overruns. Funded with money left over from past snow removal budgets, the account now contains $380,717.

“We will most likely request that the City Council cover these overages at some point later in the year with funds in the snow removal reserve account,” L’Heureux said.

The two recent nor’easters and icier than normal conditions throughout the winter also have been costly in Biddeford, which uses 17 plows and other equipment to clear 270 lane miles of roads and 35 miles of sidewalks.

The city has exceeded its $94,000 overtime budget for snow removal by $36,000 and is $30,000 over budget on salt, said Jeff Demers, public works director. The city spent about $180,000 on snow removal during the first week in March.

Demers said he recently asked the City Council for more money to buy salt and cover overtime costs associated with cleaning up winter storms. He will update councilors Tuesday night.

In Scarborough, Town Manager Tom Hall said he expects to cover snow budget overruns with savings found elsewhere in the budget.

“A budget is a good guess,” Hall said. “You can’t guess Mother Nature.”

The weather service office in Gray said the major computer forecasting models do not agree on the track of the midweek storm, which, if it affects Maine, would begin Wednesday night and last into Thursday.

“We could get grazed by some light snow on Wednesday night into Thursday,” meteorologist Chris Kimble said Sunday evening. “But if the track moves closer to the coast, we could get some significant snowfall amounts.”

Kimble said the forecast is calling for a 30 percent chance of snow Wednesday. But there is a chance the storm could pass to the south, completely missing Maine. Kimble said forecasters should have a much better idea of the track and magnitude of the midweek storm on Monday.

Staff writers Randy Billings, Gillian Graham and Dennis Hoey contributed to this report.

Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: KelleyBouchard

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