“We’re not God. We can’t snap our fingers to make it go away.”
That was Fairfield Streets Superintendent Darrel Bisgard describing his predicament of trying to remove 11 inches of wet, heavy snow from the town’s roads. Bisgard said he has fielded several complaints from residents who want the city to work faster, and he wants the public to know his department is doing all it can to make the streets passable.
The blizzard descended on Fairfield around noon on Sunday. Since it was predicted to be massive, Bisgard thought it best to wait a few hours, so that the crews could hit the tail end of the storm. By 3:30 p.m., all seven employees of the streets department began plowing, and they worked until 9:30 p.m. They started with the busiest streets: Burlington, B Street, Sixth Street and Grimes, just to name a few. Highway 1 is a state road, so the state took care of it.
The major roads were cleared by Sunday night. The crews returned to work at 5 a.m. Monday to work an eight-hour shift, plowing the roads they couldn’t get to the day before.
On Tuesday, Bisgard asked his employees to work a 12-hour shift, which he said is the limit.
“I only got seven guys, I can’t kill them,” he said. “It’s a lot of stress to drive a snowplow, too, because other drivers don’t always pay attention.”
On Tuesday night, crews began piling snow on the square, and later other crews came by to haul it away. All the snow that you see being trucked away ends up outside the street department’s maintenance shed. Once the hill gets sufficiently high, it’s pushed down a ravine where the snow melts into a creek.
Bisgard said it has been tricky to clear the square because parked cars are left on the street overnight. He encourages residents to observe the posted signs about moving their cars off the square from 2-6 a.m.
“We can’t clean [the square] very well when everyone is parked there,” he said.
In the days since, the streets department has been attacking the packed snow as well as it can. This has been a slow and difficult process, and Bisgard asks the town’s residents to be patient.
“I know people are not happy, but if it starts freezing, and we don’t get any help from God in the way of temperature, it’s tough,” he said. “When we can, we go out in the afternoon and peel stuff off. We go out every morning and do the routes around the school. We’ve gotten the places that have been slick.”
Unlike some snowfalls that are light and fluffy, this snowfall was anything but. This wet snow sticks to the plow and rolls off the blade in large chunks. Bisgard said he knows this sometimes leaves a boulder outside a resident’s driveway. He apologizes to the residents who have to deal with those, and wants them to know the city is not doing it on purpose.
Bisgard said the city has put down a 50-50 mixture of salt and sand. It has three dump trucks converted into sanders, but for a while two of those were broken, leaving the city with only one at its disposal. One of the broken sanders has since been repaired and returned to operation.
How was the state able to clear its roads so soon after the blizzard? The state pretreats roads with brine 24 hours before a predicted snowfall. Brine melts the snow on contact.
The city does not pretreat roads before a storm, and it does not use brine at all. Why? Part of the problem is that it’s another expense, but more than that, Bisgard said brine is hard on both cars and the road.
Brine is a mixture of salt and water. Applying pure salt crystals to a road causes many to bounce off, which does nothing to thaw the pavement. But when dissolved in water, the salt sticks to the road, increasing its effectiveness.
Unfortunately, it also sticks to the cars that drive over it. According to theruststore.com, brine coats every nook and cranny in a vehicle’s underbody with water and salt, the two things that cause iron and steel to rust.
The city does not normally remove snow from alleys. However, it makes an exception for large amounts of snowfall, greater than 2.5 inches. In those instances, employees from the water and wastewater departments plow the alleys.
Bisgard said the city has to be careful about plowing gravel alleys because it’s easy for the blade to tear up the road.
Preparing for rain
Bisgard said a new problem is on the horizon, and that is rain. One half inch of rain is predicted for Friday, and another half-inch on Saturday. The rain will need somewhere to go, so city crews are spending the day making sure the storm sewer catch basins are clear.
Additionally, crews will be hauling snow from parking lots and dead-end circles, where it was piled in the immediate aftermath of the blizzard. They will continue peeling off snow when possible like they did Wednesday, and continue to lay down sand, like they did this morning.
Bisgard said the streets department does not consider the roads to be cleared, and is working tirelessly to clean them. He’s asking residents to be mindful of the city vehicles they encounter on the road.
“When we’re plowing, don’t come up behind us, because you never know if the plow is going to trip and we’ll have to back up to reset it,” he said. “Just give us some space. When you have a snow like this, it doesn’t come off right away. Please be patient.”