City’s plow plan sees results

FAIRMONT — Three months ago, the city of Fairmont altered its snow and ice control policy in an effort to improve snow removal procedures.

In addition to adding a plow truck to the snow removal fleet, the city’s snow emergency routes were lengthened and new signage was put up along those routes alerting motorists about a parking ban after a snowfall.

The move has produced positive results, but there are still a few bumps in the road.

“The plow drivers have been noticing, on the snow emergency routes, that they’ve been having better compliance, and there’s more cars off the streets,” said Troy Nemmers, Fairmont city engineer/public works director. “They’ve been able to clear those better, but there’s still challenges on the side streets and all those streets that aren’t marked as snow emergency routes. Then it’s up to the residents to get their cars off the street or moved after the plow goes through.”

Snow emergency routes include North North Avenue, Albion Avenue, South State Street, Blue Earth Avenue, Lair Road, Lake Avenue and the downtown area from Park Street to Lake Avenue and from Blue Earth Avenue to Fourth Street.

“Once we hit 2 inches of snow, there’s an automatic snow emergency,” Nemmers said. “There’s not an official declaration. There’s not going to be a big publication. It just automatically kicks in.”

If timing allows, information is posted in the city’s Facebook page, but there are no other media announcements.

Vehicles are banned from parking along snow emergency routes during an emergency until the street has been cleared curb to curb. Vehicles parked along these routes during snow emergencies may be ticketed with a $50 fine or towed at the owner’s expense. Nemmers heard that a dozen vehicles were ticketed in the Downtown Plaza area Wednesday morning.

Motorists also should avoid parking on priority routes, if possible. Priority routes are those with heavier traffic or frequently used for emergency vehicles and include Prairie Avenue, Shoreacres Drive, Falcon Drive to Goldfinch, Winnebago Avenue, 10th Street, Fourth Street, Victoria Street, Johnson Street, East Belle Vue Avenue and Woodland Avenue.

On these routes, as well as all other city streets, vehicles must be moved within 24 hours to allow for curb-to-curb cleaning.

With more than 75 miles of city streets to plow, and multiple swipes made on each block, even one or two parked vehicles per block can have a marked impact on the time required to clear the roadways.

And that costs taxpayers money.

The city’s annual snow and ice budget is $280,000, but Nemmers said it is difficult to compute a seasonal cost. The city’s budget runs on the calendar year, but the snow removal season spans the end of one year and the beginning of another. In 2018, when it still was snowing well into the spring months, the city budgeted $25,000 for salt and sand, but the actual expenditure was $34,000.

“We buy the salt and sand separately, and then we mix it about 20 percent salt and 80 percent sand,” Nemmers said.

In order for this mixture to decimate snow and ice on the streets, the temperature must be at least 15 degrees. If it is colder, crews try a different method.

“We have some red rock that we sweep up from our seal coat projects,” Nemmers said. “We use it for traction when it’s really icy but too cold for the salt to work.”

Red rock was used on streets and in alleys ahead of the ice that came in Sunday night.

In spite of the various efforts made to rid the municipal streets of ice and snow, city crews have difficulty purging the street slush like the Minnesota Department of Transportation does on State Street (Highway 15).

“MnDOT has goals that they want to meet for clear pavement,” Nemmers said. “I’ve never counted how often they go over it, but they go over it very frequently, dumping salt constantly as they go. They dump a lot of salt, and the plows make multiple passes, scraping everything off as it melts.”

Constantly blanketing all the city’s roadways with salt would become a cost issue as well as an environmental one, he said.

Nemmers also reminded citizens that the type of snow removal equipment used in a certain area dictates why a parking lot might be cleared before a street is.

“We’ve got plow trucks. We’ve got graders. We’ve got Jeeps. We’ve got small trucks. Each piece of equipment is made for a certain type of snow removal,” he said. “We can’t put all of our equipment on the roads. Jeeps and small trucks aren’t going to be able to plow the roads efficiently so those smaller units go to the parks and trails and parking lots. That’s why there’s certain streets that the plow truck or grader hasn’t gotten to, but the Jeeps and the smaller trucks are done with the parking lots and alleys in that area.”

With more snow in the forecast, Nemmers offered his standard advice: “If possible, get your car off the street. Try and keep your trash cans and recycling bins out of the street so the plows don’t have to go around them.”