DPW Director Describes Perfect Storm Of Snow Troubles

By: Alan Pollock

Topics: Infrastructure , Storms

A snow plow clears area roads.  FILE PHOTO

CHATHAM — As of early this week, the last remnants of the Jan. 7 snowfall had yet to vanish completely. Nor had the memories of the storm.

Public Works Director Tom Temple praised the efforts of crews working to keep the roads plowed, despite a series of setbacks that left the town short of plows. Giving an update to the board of selectmen last week, Temple said it may be time for Chatham to consider using a liquid brine to treat roadways before snowstorms, rather than always relying on the standard salt-and-sand treatment.

On Friday Jan. 6, the town received around five inches of snow, and crews quickly cleared the roads and sidewalks “to get prepared for the blitz that was coming Saturday into Sunday,” Temple said. That action allowed crews to pre-treat the pavement for the next storm, he noted.

A series of problems plagued crews during the storm itself. Precipitation briefly changed to rain and caused an icy layer under the snow. Longtime employee Paul White fell on the ice and suffered a concussion; Temple said the department appreciates his hard work and wishes him a speedy recovery.

Three town-owned vehicles experienced problems during the storm, including a six-wheel dump truck with a plow and sander which was put out of service by a problem with a hydraulic hose. Additionally, two private plows working under contract with the town ended up out of service. Even the town's sidewalk plow was put out of commission because of a broken auger.

With 123 miles of roads in town, the loss of even a single plow represents a real setback, Temple said. Remaining crews had to work double shifts, plowing multiple routes rather than one each. In the Jan. 7 storm, about 15.5 additional inches of snow fell at a rate of between 1.5 and two inches per hour, accumulating on pavement and packing down before crews could remove it. The problem would not have been as acute if the town hadn't been down five plows.

“That's a lot for a community this size, with the amount of roads that we have,” he said. Chatham has 210 town roads and another 450 private roads that are plowed.

Though equipment is now largely back in service, the Jan.7 storm represented a major challenge.

“Kudos to the guys, because they really did a lot, for what they had for materials,” Temple said. In addition to the hard work by crews, there was strong cooperation between the DPW and other town departments, and the effort to promptly clean up Friday's storm helped crews quickly begin work on the Saturday snow as soon as it began falling.

Temple will be gathering information for selectmen on a brine system similar to the one he implemented in his previous post in Middleborough. The road treatment is markedly less corrosive than rock salt or calcium and is better for the environment, he said. Critically, it can be applied to roadways up to 48 hours before a snowstorm, allowing crews to do the work on regular time, not overtime. The solution adheres to the roadway and causes snow and ice to melt as soon as it hits the pavement, and it also doesn't get scraped off the road when plows go by.

“It's safer for the environment, safer for animals and pets when you're walking,” he said.

Selectman Seth Taylor said part of the problem is that the town has too many light trucks in its fleet of snowplows.

“You have to have a heavy blade and a heavy piece of equipment” to clear accumulated snow, Taylor said. He said he hopes the town is offering enough money to attract contractors with this kind of heavy equipment.

“If we're not offering a rate that makes people want to bid our roads, then we need to revisit that,” he said. Temple said that while the town recently upped its rates for plow contractors, he would reexamine the matter.

During the storm, a motorist claimed to have been hit by a plow in Chatham, Temple said. The plow was a contractor, and the driver told officials he didn't remember hitting anything. No one was hurt in the accident, and no citations were issued, Temple said. It was just one more challenge during the storm.

“[It was] everything that you can imagine,” he said. “The only thing we were missing were a couple of broken water mains.”

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