Thursday, November 23, 2017
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Council votes to eliminate snow banks on Elk Avenue

Something will be missing from the postcards this year

By Mark Reaman

Say so long to the winter snow banks along Elk Avenue. In a split vote, safety trumped aesthetics as the Crested Butte Town Council voted Monday to scrape the Elk Avenue snow banks after every storm this winter.

The decision came during the annual discussion about the public works department Snow Management Plan review. Snow banks are usually controversial (this is a small town, after all) and sometimes lead to long discussions. In recent years, the council had reached a compromise of sorts, where the snow banks would remain during the two and a half weeks around the Christmas and New Year’s holidays. If there were special events that needed snow on Elk Avenue, such as the Alley Loop, snow banks would be piled along Elk Avenue for convenient snow storage and movement.

But this year, public works director Rodney Due noted that the recent citizen’s parking committee recommended removing the banks on Elk throughout the winter, including during the holiday period. The idea was that removing them promoted pedestrian safety, enhanced pedestrian and vehicular visibility and provided easy access to businesses.

“We all understand that it adds to the beauty of the town streetscape,” said Due. “Most of the pictures and postcards you see of Elk Avenue in the winter have the snow banks.”

Chief marshal Mike Reily said snow banks present a mixed bag. “They’re beautiful but they have their dangers as well. They aren’t a problem until they’re a problem. People slip under their cars when it’s icy and we have to get them out. If they are too high you can’t see oncoming traffic,” he said.

“We all love the iconic look of snow banks,” said mayor Glenn Michel. “But we are hearing they are a safety hazard. And they can take away parking if they get too big and we have to close one side of the street to parking. As our streetscape has more vitality in the winter, how do we handle it?”

Due said it costs about $5,000 to pull the banks, but the budget could handle it either way, he said.

“There will always be times the snow banks build during a longer storm cycle,” said parks and recreation director Janna Hansen.

“From the committee’s perspective, the Mountain Express expressed some concern,” said councilman Chris Ladoulis, who sat on the citizen’s parking committee. “They did say prohibiting parking on one side of the streets when the road narrows is necessary at times.”

“It seems the staff and committee feel it is a situation that has gotten dangerous, so I am okay with that plan,” said Michel.

“This has been back and forth forever,” said councilman Jim Schmidt. “The aesthetic look of the streetscape with snow banks is in every postcard of Elk Avenue in winter. I think we reached a reasonable compromise to keep them around Christmas and New Year’s. It is usually cold that time of year so the freeze-thaw issues aren’t as bad. There is less slipping that time of year. I’d keep with that compromise.”

“I agree,” said Ladoulis. “I don’t want to be the council that scraped the snow banks. They’re awesome until they’re not. They get dirty and dogs pee on them but those issues can be addressed. I don’t want to throw the snow banks out with the bath water. I’d hate to see us lose them totally.”

“Our primary concern should be health and safety before aesthetics,” responded councilman Jackson Petito. “I’m in favor of keeping them clear.”

“I think the compromise has worked well,” said councilman Roland Mason.

“I’m with Jackson on the health and human safety issue,” said councilwoman Laura Mitchell. “Maybe we take a year off and go with the scrape this year and then revisit it next year.”

That left a 3-3 tie, with councilman Paul Merck to decide the fate of the snow banks. “It’s is sometimes hard to keep up with the snow. But I think it is a health and safety issue, so I’ll go with Jackson.”

And thus the Elk Avenue snow banks will be scraped clear in the winter of 2017-18. The council voted 6-1 to eliminate the photogenic but dangerous piles of snow this winter and will take a look at the decision a year from now. Ladoulis voted against the move.

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