City crews remove snow near 4th and E Streets in Douglas on Monday, Dec. 20. (Dana Zigmund/Juneau Empire)

Snow many issues

Public works officials talk snow removal

As snow piles up this season, City and Borough of Juneau officials are managing growing snow mounds and complaints about how city crews remove snow and clear streets.

As the capital city braces for another round of snow that the National Weather Service says could dump 5 to 7 inches across Juneau Monday evening into Tuesday, Katie Koester, director of the CBJ Engineering and Public Works Department, told members of the Public Works and Facilities Committee that several factors make snow removal challenging.

Koester said crews are smaller than they were a decade ago because a series of budget cuts have trimmed staff numbers.

She said that a crew of 32 people was available to help with snow removal 10 years ago. Now, the crew includes 19 people. She said many of the staff cuts affected seasonal workers.

“The goal of CBJ streets is to clear snow from traveled ways in priority order to provide the safest travel for the most people in the least amount of time,” Koester wrote in a report to committee members before the meeting. “We have limited resources to achieve this goal, but operators are working around the clock during snow events to keep roads open.”

Greg Smith, superintendent of streets and fleets for CBJ, said that heavy snow falling on consecutive days right out of the gate in November exacerbated snow removal issues residents experienced.

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“Winter was not an easy entry this year,” Smith told the committee. “This is the first time we’ve had a real winter with this early of a start, and it could continue all year.”

Smith said every plow operator is sensitive to resident concerns about blocked driveways, growing snow berms, and street conditions.

Koester told committee members that the city’s goal is to remove snow and clear berms within 48 hours. But, significant snowfalls on consecutive days make the task difficult.

“Even if we were fully staffed, it will still take more than 48 hours,” Smith said, adding that the snow that falls on Juneau often has a high moisture content that’s heavy and difficult to move.

He said some winters produce relatively little snowfall, making finding the correct number of staff members more complicated because no one knows how much snow will fall in a given season.

Storage woes

Koester said that finding a place for all the snow is also challenging and must be carefully managed to avoid creating new problems.

“Nearly every street in Juneau has a specific location where snow must be plowed to. This is to maintain drainage and prevent flooding of residences when the snow melts,” Koester said in her memo.

She said that streets with open ditches cannot have snow pushed into them because it could prevent water flow, and that underground drainage systems are also tricky for snow removal because the drains can’t be blocked.

Smith told committee members that the city’s snow removal policy is the same for the Mendenhall Valley and downtown areas. However, some of the strategies employed downtown, such as stacking snow into a center berm, don’t lend themselves to the terrain in the valley.

“While center berm plowing appears to be an effective practice, we don’t have room on most CBJ streets to push snow to the middle of the road,” Koester said in her memo. “It also provides for awkward and dangerous traffic flow if there are no breaks in the berm for driveways. Center berm plowing, in the Mendenhall Valley area, in particular, can create problems for emergency vehicle access.”

Smith and Koester both said that department members do the best they can to respond to changing weather conditions.

“The weather dictates what we are going to do,” Smith said.

• Contact reporter Dana Zigmund at dana.zigmund@juneauempire.com or 907-308-4891.

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