Tim Leeds Havre Daily News email@example.com
Road crews have been busy the last few weeks trying to keep up with snow piling and drifting in one of the heaviest winters north-central Montana has seen in recent years. Havre city officials say they are working to keep the streets passable, although people in the area have been unhappy with the results. Snow has been piling up in the area since the first heavy snowfall in early December, with a heavy storm in Havre Jan. 2 increasing its depth. Havre Deputy Director of Public Works Jeff Jensen said the city crews have been trying to keep the streets drivable, although which streets are cleared first are set by a priority rating, and were affected by other complications that have caused delays like water main breaks and the hours the city can budget for work crews. “I feel for the taxpayers out there. I get a lot of calls. We do what we can,” Jensen said, adding that he realizes it may not always appear that the city is working on the streets. The Montana Department of Transportation has been busy working on the highways including 1st Street and 5th Avenue in Havre, which are part of the state highway system. MDT has been closing highways as necessary and sending out crews to clear them and re-clear them when drifting occurs. Hill County Road and Bridge Supervisor Jerry Otto said his crews also have been busy. “We’ve been going steady here,” Otto said. “Seven days a week, somebody’s been out.” Otto said the situation is improving for now, but was very hectic after the storm Jan. 2. He added that drifting in the northwestern part of the county, such as north of Rudyard and Inverness, has been particularly bad. One Caterpillar has been working in the same spot in that location for three days, he said. “We’ve had some 13-foot drifts north of Inverness,” Otto said. He said that if the extremely heavy snowfall is over, the county’s snow removal budget should be OK, but if more heavy snow falls it could cause problems. That could lead the county to concentrate on main roads and closing some lesser-used routes except in emergency situations. Otto said he sometimes takes calls from people who want roads plowed when they are not county roads. Some subdivisions have roads that are privately maintained, and the county will not plow those routes unless it is a medical emergency. He added that some private contractors are available to plow those roads. In Havre, the city concentrates on first clearing emergency snow routes, with a secondary focus on high-traffic streets, as listed in its snow and ice control policy. In the last few days, Havre crews have been working to finish clearing some routes in the business section and some parts of residential Havre. Public Works Director Dave Peterson said this morning that the crews were working to clear what they could and might continue work today on areas where people are having problems. “We will try to make everywhere as passable as possible,” he said. Some vehicles that were parked on the streets and avenues this morning as workers plowed ended up partially buried, with snow pushed up over the vehicle’s wheel wells in some cases. Peterson said clearing those out is the responsibility of the owner, as is clearing driveways and sidewalks. Jensen said Tuesday that the city also works to keep school bus routes as clear as possible, although that raises difficulties because the bus routes go almost everywhere in the city. “We try to respond to areas where serious problems are occurring,” he said. Jim Donovan, director of transportation and maintenance for Havre Public Schools, said in an Interview last week that the school district was having trouble with the streets in Havre. When interviewed, Donovan said seven buses had gotten stuck that morning, two in the country and five inside Havre city limits. The city is now updating its standing snow and ice control policy, with the general policies remaining the same as its existing plan, Jensen said. That policy will be available for examination at City Hall. Jensen said Tuesday that he was nearly done updating the existing policy, making sure it is consistent with current procedures, such as which streets are emergency snow routes with top priority to be cleared of snow. Jensen said removing the buildup from the snowstorm on Jan. 2 was complicated by a string of water main breaks city crews were repairing breaks on Jan. 3, 4 and 5. Repairing those breaks used up most of the time the city could budget for work crews that week, delaying work on the streets. “We’re hoping now, barring water main breaks, more time will be available,” he said, adding that city ordinances are in place that govern some aspects of snow removal. Property owners are not allowed to shovel or plow snow into the streets, and are responsible for removing snow from the sidewalks and driveways on their property, Jensen said. That includes snow that could be pushed onto the property when city workers plow the streets, he added. The snow and ice control plan discusses the priorities of snow removal, with the top priority being clearing emergency snow routes, followed by major arterial streets that intersect high traffic volume streets with higher attention paid to streets near schools, hospitals and business areas. The third level of priority is on streets in hilly areas, including Sunset Hill, Skyline, Morningside and South Park Heights additions. Most residential streets and other streets not in the top three priorities are considered non-priority streets in the snow and ice control plan. “These streets will not normally be cleared unless impassable and ordered by the Public Works Director or his/her designated representative,” the plan says. The procedures listed are, first, for slick or icy spots to be sanded to reduce hazards or dangers, with particular attention given to areas near stop signs, traffic signals and hills. A top priority is to sand areas adjacent to the emergency snow routes, the plan says. Second is that when snow depth exceeds 5 inches crews will begin removing snow on emergency snow routes. The third is plowing of residential streets, which would be from curb to curb, the document says. “Plowing of residential streets will not typically begin until after emergency snow routes, high traffic volume streets, hospitals and public schools accesses, business districts and city parking facilities have been cleared of snow accumulations,” the plan says.