CHESTER – Car-high snow banks on Chester’s miles of streets are a clear indication of how much work the highway department and contractors have been putting into keeping the roads clear this year. It’s a season that has already exceeded the budgets allotted for snow removal, and road agent Mike Oleson is beginning to dip into the town’s emergency snow removal fund.
But even if the budget is overspent, the highway department can’t stop plowing and sanding. “You plow snow. That’s the bottom line,” said Oleson. “It’s a public safety issue.”
While all the bills for the most recent storms aren’t in, officially the town has spent $160,000 in a $175,000 plowing line and $63,000 in a $70,000 salt line.
The numbers are for a fiscal year of July 1 through June 30, so the numbers include the storms at the start of the winter season as well.
Last week two back-to-back storms and some icing kept plow drivers out for hours for days, and by the end of it Oleson was sure the budget had been gone through.
The first storm on Tuesday, Feb. 18, was hard to get ahead of, said Oleson. Snow was coming down so heavily and fast that as soon as a driver was done with his route, there were already more inches dropped at the start of the route.
Every piece of equipment the town had at its disposal was on the road that day. The town has 12 contractors for snow removal. An individual route takes about three hours, depending on the storm.
But it’s been going relatively smoothly in recent storms, though equipment breakage is always a threat. With frost heaves and rough roads, it’s not strange for plow parts to snap and bend, none of which are inexpensive fixes. There have been equipment issues throughout the season, said Oleson, including the town’s losing one of its two trucks for a few storms. But overall the department is getting through it, he said.
Both trucks are now back on the road. Voters may have the chance to replace the older of the two trucks this year by a warrant article. It’s a vehicle that both Oleson and the selectmen agree will not make it another year.
To keep ahead of the inches of snow, Oleson and his crew push back the snow banks, intersections and cul-de-sacs during storm events. Two backhoe/loaders with plows make the rounds to help push back the corners and clear cul-de-sacs.
There are 110 lane miles of road in Chester, including six miles of dirt roads that are maintained by the town.
Making the job more difficult in some areas is the deteriorating condition of the roads. A rough road like East Derry or Harantis Lake needs double the salt a smooth road like Webster Road requires. The plows can’t scrape down to pavement on broken up asphalt, and the trucks must drive very slowly to prevent damage.
Of some concern in coming weeks is a salt shortage that has been affecting the Northeast, but overall Oleson is confident.
Last week, rising temperatures added the issue of flooding. At the end of the week, contractors and town employees were out breaking ice dams to give the water a place to get off the roads before it froze again.