There’s just so much
Where oh where shall it go? Town officials are struggling to figure out just where to move all the excess snow and how to pay for it as the white stuff continues to fall at record pace. One solution may be to leave it right where it is.
The Town of Crested Butte issued a press release last week announcing the town was attempting to address the snow removal issue and requested patience from residents. According to mayor Alan Bernholtz, the announcement was needed to let the public know just how difficult the situation is and the town is doing everything it can with the resources it has.
Town manager Susan Parker says the town has already hauled over 2,000 trucks of snow this winter and space to store the snow is shrinking. She says the town’s two main snow storage areas – the gravel pit and the public works yard – are almost at capacity.
The town has even gone as far to close the gravel pit to commercial haulers to maximize the site’s holding capacity. Parker says the town also hired Crested Butte-based Lacy Construction to manage the gravel pit site to compact the snow to make more room.
“We have exhausted every avenue the best we can,” Parker says.
It’s a bit of a shuffling game for the town’s four-man crew responsible for removing the snow. Snow is plowed from the streets to temporary holding areas around town and then hauled to the main storage areas. However, plowing is priority number one, not hauling snow, Parker says.
“This year we are just trying to keep up,” Parker explains. “We’re just waiting for it to slow down so we can do more.”
One strategy for snow storage has been to leave it on the street, and in some residential areas the snow pack on top of asphalt has reached almost 2 feet deep. However, Parker says even that isn’t an option any longer.
She says the town has started ‘peeling’ or blading some of the alleys because they are causing problems for Waste Management trucks, who are dangerously close to the power lines when picking up Dumpsters.
Parker says the town does not plan to pull the snow banks in residential areas as there is no where to take the snow. However, she does admit the banks have reached excessive heights.
“We all have to be patient,” Parker says. “This is not a normal event.”
If it continues to snow, the town may be forced to lease additional land for storage, Parker says, noting there are only a few locations available. “Everyone has as much snow as we do,” Parker adds.
According to the town’s weather observer Taylor Davis, Crested Butte has received over 196 inches of snow since December 1 and finding a place to store all the snow has started to drain the Town’s budget.
Of the $142,000 budgeted for snow removal for 2008, the town has already exhausted more than 31 percent in January alone. The $46,000 spent includes $22,500 for labor and $23,500 for contractors, roof shoveling and supplies.
“If it doesn’t stop snowing we will use up all the money budgeted for next October, November and December by the end of February,” Crested Butte finance director Lois Rozman says.
The burdensome snow situation isn’t any different three miles north in the town of Mt. Crested Butte. Town manager Joe Fitzpatrick says Mt. Crested Butte is encountering many of the same problems with snow removal as Crested Butte.
With no more room left on the side of the roads to pile up snow, Fitzpatrick says the town must now use snow blowers to keep what little room is left clear. “Our roads in many cases are down to a lane and a half. We just have to be slow and cautious as we drive around,” he says.
Fitzpatrick says Gunnison County provides occasional assistance with snow blowing. “We get help from the county when they have time. They have a lot of roads they have to take care of first,” Fitzpatrick says. The town also has a contract with JCI Snowplowing for additional snow removal he says.
The town is particularly facing problems in the Pitchfork subdivision. ‘The Pitchfork situation is a storage issue. There isn’t enough room to store snow,” Fitzpatrick says.
According to Fitzpatrick’s February 5 manager’s report to the Mt. Crested Butte Town Council, between December 12 and January 16 the town hauled 121 dump truck loads of snow out of Pitchfork. Fitzpatrick says since that time there have been many more truck loads of snow hauled out.
He says the Pitchfork homeowners association has been very helpful in notifying residents when to move their cars for snow removal, and in financially assisting with the snow removal efforts.
Fitzpatrick says the town is fortunate to have a place to store the snow elsewhere. “We have a snow dump site in Mt. Crested Butte to remove the Pitchfork snow. Right now that site works, but as build out continues that site will eventually go away,” Fitzpatrick says.
Another issue is the limited supply of snow removal equipment, and at the time of this interview Fitzpatrick says the town’s main snow blower was out of commission and undergoing repairs. “Snow has definitely taken its toll on the equipment. Those snow blowers are temperamental beasts,” Fitzpatrick says.
Between the equipment repairs, contracting outside labor, and paying overtime to the town’s employees, Fitzpatrick says the cost of snow removal will be ‘way over’ budget this year, but says the town probably will not know just how much until this spring.
Snow storage is starting to become everyone’s problem from government officials to business owners to residents and what to do about it is everyone’s question.
Travis Todd and Luke LaPenna, owners of the Crested Butte Brewery, learned first hand just how important it is to pay attention to where snow is stored, and they learned the roof may not be the best place.
The Brewery roof collapsed Sunday, February 3, hours prior to a scheduled Super Bowl event. Todd says the slow leak progressively got worse and the weight of snow caused the roof to buckle – soon after the roof came crashing to the floor. Todd says when the leak was investigated there were 8 to 9 feet of snow on the roof and the drains were not working properly.
Todd says it took three dump trucks to haul the snow away after it was removed from the 4,300 square foot roof. The Brewery’s owners were forced to close the restaurant, which is scheduled to reopen on Thursday, February 14, for almost a week. Todd says the repairs will be close to $10,000. Todd recommends business owners and residents alike should not ignore leaks.
“There’s a reason for it and you should address it,” Todd warns. “From day one, regardless if it’s a snowy year or not, you have to be on top of maintenance.” Snow storage and removal have even vexed residents down valley as they too have experienced record snowfall. The library at Western State College was forced to close last week after the roof collapsed. Officials say an excess snow load and wind caused the roof collapse. No one was injured and damage was minor. Gunnison is reporting 38 inches of snow thus far this winter.
As for residents, figuring out where to put snow has encouraged some to throw snow into the street. However, Crested Butte Marshal Peter Daniels recommends residents reconsider such actions, as he says it’s breaking the law.
Residents can be ticketed and fined for putting snow into the town’s right of way, according to Daniels. The ticket is a $200 fine plus court costs.
“The snow can’t be removed from your property onto the public right of way,” Daniels explains. “You just have to stack it higher, that’s were it has to go.”
Mt. Crested Butte citizens can also be ticketed for moving snow into their town’s right of way according to community development director Bill Racek. “The right of way is the area in which the town plows its snow,” Racek says.
While the town of Crested Butte has a winter parking scheme that allows residents to temporarily park their cars in the town right of way, in Mt. Crested Butte there is no on-street parking. Racek says the exception to on street parking and snow storage is in the Pitchfork subdivision, which has a complicated parking and snow management plan.
Daniels says residents can temporarily move the snow onto the street while shoveling a sidewalk or driveway, but then it must be properly removed otherwise a ticket will be given. He says residents don’t realize the long term problems the excess snow causes because they don’t feel like it’s very much snow. However, as Daniels points out, a couple of shovels of snow can become a large bump in the road.
“Don’t make your problem everyone else’s,” Daniels says. “If your snow problem doesn’t become someone else’s snow problem then you’re doing things right.”
The marshal’s department did not estimate the number of tickets given, but Daniels says there have been numerous warnings given. “This is a crazy year for snow,” Daniels adds.