“You can’t plow it until it falls…”
“Walking down Elk Avenue as the snow falls in the early morning or evening remains one of the most picturesque and enjoyable activities of a Crested Butte day. Falling on an icy sidewalk is not.”
After a sunny and warm summer, the Crested Butte Town Council is looking forward to a snowy winter. The town staff Monday presented the council with an outline of the proposed snow removal plan for the town. It includes calling in snow removal forces when six inches of snow accumulates in town, and giving thought to removing snow banks along Elk Avenue when they reach four feet in height, get too dirty or simply become too unsightly.
Last year nearly 300 inches of the white stuff came down on Crested Butte. But even in lean years, snow banks on Elk Avenue are a regular, and sometimes controversial, topic of discussion at the Town Council level.
“The trade-off is always the character and charm that the snowbanks add that make this place special vs. the sterile look when we haul them away,” said councilperson Skip Berkshire.
Mayor Alan Bernholtz told the new public works director and recent immigrant from Hawaii, Rodney Due, to get used to such discussion. “To let you know, snowbanks will be discussed every winter and maybe every meeting between now and the end of winter,” he said. “I just came back from a world-class resort in Canada and they were trying to emulate what our town looks like. I like the snowbanks.”
Town manager Susan Parker said the staff has spent two months formulating snow removal plans. “We want to be efficient with our resources,” she told the council. “For example, last year the town was responsible for 50 cuts from the sidewalk to the streets. We thought they were good and safe for the pedestrians and we plan to keep them in basically the same places.”
Parker said the new Four-way Stop at Sixth and Elk will be interesting. “With the new look, it will be a learning curve for us,” she said. “We will find places for the snow. We expect two hours of additional work at the Four-way every time we have to remove snow.”
Bernholtz suggested the town only blow snow off the sidewalk located along the west side of Sixth Street instead of also snow-blowing the east sidewalk.
“We felt doing both sides would be good, given the location of the bus areas,” said Parker.
“It seems a waste of resources to do both,” responded Bernholtz.
“I like having both cleared,” added councilperson Berkshire.
“Why?” pressed Bernholtz. “There’s nothing but the empty softball field on the east side. I think it is weird to plow both sides.”
Parker said the staff would evaluate the situation as the winter progressed, so as “to not waste resources. We’ll review it regularly.”
Town building and zoning director Bob Gillie told Bernholtz that one of the reasons for the measure was to keep that sidewalk clear in order to provide a path for people parking at the Four-way parking lots and walking to the Center for the Arts during performances.
“It seems like too much,” Bernholtz persisted. “I don’t want to micromanage the staff, but when the council wants something done from the staff, I don’t want to hear back from them that they are too busy plowing sidewalks.”
“We hear you,” promised Parker.
Back to snow banks and overall snow removal. While Berkshire complimented the town crew for last year’s efforts, “The occasional off-the-back situation gives us all a black eye,” he said. “If we have a six-inch rule before calling out the forces, can we err on the side of caution and if we know a big storm is coming, but it is coming at say 4 a.m., can we be more prepared?”
Due told him that he lives in Crested Butte South, so three public works department plow drivers are now located near town instead of just two.
“I think we did great 99 percent of the time last year but it’s the 1 percent everyone complains about,” said Berkshire.
Bernholtz suggested the town check in regularly with the Crested Butte Avalanche Center forecast for accurate snow predictions.
“I don’t care how good your forecast is,” Gillie said. “You can’t plow it until it falls. If it starts snowing at 4 a.m., it takes time to plow.”
Bernholtz understood the concept. “We live in the Rocky Mountains and snow is a good thing.”
Berkshire asked that the Mountain Express bus routes be given priority.
Gillie said that’s normally the case within standard snow removal practices in town.
“I’m okay with snow being on the streets,” said Bernholtz. “Maybe I’m different from Skip and don’t need every snowflake off the streets. I love the snow and we should be blessed to get too much snow.”
As for the classic snowbanks, Parker had suggested looking at clearing them off Elk Avenue when they reached two feet high.
Councilman Billy Rankin said that was pretty short. “That’s only up to your knees. That’s pretty pricey from a budget perspective.”
Parker explained that when the banks hit that height, they also widened out, making Elk Avenue narrower.
“Personally, four or five feet high is fine with me,” said Bernholtz. “You can see over them so they’re safe but they still look good.”
Voiced by councilperson Leah Williams, the council made it clear they were talking about snow banks, and not ice banks.
Berkshire agreed. “Last year during one of the busiest weekends of the winter season, the town chopped up the snow pack from the street so there were chunks along Elk Avenue, which looked about as ugly as we could make it,” he said.
Resident Missy Ochs asked the town to remind truck drivers hauling snow to slow down and pay attention to stop signs, especially near the school.
Parker said that was part of the plan. She also said she was going door-to-door with local businesses and residents affected by the revised snow control plan and making them aware of the changes. “So far, it’s been received pretty well,” she said.
“I’m glad I live in a town where snow banks are something we have to discuss,” summarized Bernholtz. And he said to expect more discussion on the matter as winter becomes more of a reality.