Snow cleanup debated

FAIRMONT — Only a few residents offered opinions about the city’s snow removal process during a Fairmont City Council public hearing Monday, but many others emailed, phoned, wrote or talked directly to council members.

The general consensus expressed favors a snow emergency program that would bar vehicles from parking on certain streets during certain times, a program similar to one used in other communities.

Councilman Tom Hawkins received many responses to a Facebook request for comments on the city’s snow removal procedures. He listed the various general comments, stressing that residents had concerns about the snow removal policy but not with the job done by city employees.

“It may not be our fault, but it is our problem,” he said.

When Hawkins said the city did not enforce its snow emergency rules, City Attorney Elizabeth Bloomquist corrected him.

“We do enforce it. We ticket and tow on the route,” she said.

“If we do have one, nobody thinks we do,” Hawkins said.

The city’s snow emergency route, which includes Downtown Plaza, is posted with signs prohibiting parking during certain hours and certain months. However, in the majority of the residential areas, the only requirement is that a vehicle parked on the street must be moved once every 24 hours, and it is these parked vehicles that cause problems for the plow drivers, requiring them to slow down and maneuver around the vehicles and leave windrows of snow in the street. Some of the residents who spoke said the owners of these vehicles will return to the same snow-piled spot, making it impossible for the plow operators to clean the streets from curb to curb.

“After a few snowfalls, your double lane road turns into a single lane,” said Teri Larson of 1520 Charles St. “I’d say tow them.”

Abby Gibson of 1311 N. Elm St. agreed, saying the city needs a snow emergency program, and car owners should be fined if vehicles are not moved off the street at the proper time.

Dan Kastner of 702 Burton Lane echoed the complaint, showing a photograph of four plowed-in cars parked on the street.

Vicky Schulte of 313 S. Prairie Ave. prefaced her comments by saying they might upset some people. She felt the plows should be dispatched earlier and the operators should have better training. She suggested that the tax increases the last few years should be utilized for better equipment.

“If plows are getting stuck, I feel we need better equipment,” she said. “The plow goes through too fast and pushes it (snow) in driveways.”

Ed Willett of 316 Stade Lane felt the public outcry was driven by only one storm, the heavy 16-inch snowfall on Jan. 22-23.

“I’d hate to see more equipment purchased and people hired,” he said, asking the council instead to consider a snow emergency policy.

Several city plow drivers attended the meeting, and after hearing the public comments, Brian Paradis, a 30-year city employee who operates a front-end loader during snow removal, spoke to the council.

“I can say first-hand that the equipment we have now compared to 30 years ago is second to none. We go from when Nick calls until everything is open,” said Paradis, referring to Nick Lardy, park and street superintendent, who determines when to call in the city crews. “Somebody’s going to be first. Somebody’s going to be last.”

Paradis addressed the issue of plows depositing snow at the end of driveways.

“It’s not the city’s snow. It’s everybody’s snow,” he said. “I think a snow emergency (policy) would be great. Everything off the streets. We’ve got the equipment. We’ve got the knowledge. Sometimes, you’ve just got to step back and hit it a different way.”

Councilman Bruce Peters said he received only a handful of comments.

“They all said don’t spend more money for a once-in-a-five-year event,” he said.

The council took no official action on the issue but directed city staff to research how other communities handle snow emergencies, especially in residential areas.