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Published December 26, 2013, 09:02 PM

The cost of snow: Snow plowing costs, schedules vary with weather in Grand Forks

Winter can be one of the busiest times of the year — and the most expensive — for Grand Forks’ street department. Between clearing streets and sidewalks, someone from the department is working with the snow almost 24 hours per day, according to Streets Superintendent Mark Aubol.

By: Charly Haley, Grand Forks Herald

Winter can be one of the busiest times of the year — and the most expensive — for Grand Forks’ street department.

Between clearing streets and sidewalks, someone from the department is working with the snow almost 24 hours per day, according to Streets Superintendent Mark Aubol.

“It’s pretty constant,” he said.

The average snowstorm — about 4 to 5 inches — costs the city about $18,700 to clear, he said.

And that’s on a weekday.

The same snowstorm on a weekend or holiday will cost more, with higher wages bringing the cost up to about $21,400, Aubol said.

Bigger storms will likely cost even more — 10 inches of snow can double that cost — but he said there are too many variables to offer an average cost.

Variables

About 60 percent of the $18,700 goes to fuel, material and equipment; it uses snowplows and three snowblowers. The remaining 40 percent pays the wages of the streets department’s 32 employees.

The average cost will vary, however, depending on the time of day, the wind speed, how quickly snow falls and how long the storm lasts, according to Aubol.

“We evaluate each storm and make a decision,” he said. “We really look at the forecast and try to see if we can wait (until it’s over to start plowing).” But in a big blizzard, he said his crew may plow multiple times in the same day.

The city prepares for five to six months of snowy winter each year and contracts with two snow removal services for emergency situations when there’s too much snow for the city to handle, Aubol said.

The most recent time the contracted services were used was about three years ago, he said.

Plow schedule

When the city snowplows, it starts with the main roads, such as Gateway Drive, DeMers Avenue, Columbia Road and Washington Street.

It then moves on to secondary roads, such as Cherry Street and 42nd Street. Residential neighborhoods come next, and then sidewalks, bike paths and alleys are last on the list.

But, again, the plan can vary with the weather, Aubol said. When winds are really strong, roads on the outer edges of town may get more attention because they’re less protected by buildings and can have large snow drifts, he said.

There are 625 miles of street to be cleared in Grand Forks, 40 miles of alleys and 40 miles of walkways or bike paths, he said.

Customer service

Recently, Aubol has received more requests to have sidewalks cleared earlier because more people seem to be walking, he said. But without enough workers, he said he still has to prioritize streets.

Aubol has also received requests to clear driveways after passing snowplows leave a pile of snow in front of them. Again, he said, he doesn’t have enough workers to do that, though the department will send someone over if the snow build-up is too icy to remove.

“I don’t really advertise it, but we try to help people out as best we can,” he said.

Some calls are complaints against neighbors who don’t clear the sidewalk in front of their home quickly enough. Aubol said he averages three to four a day about those.

City workers respond as quickly as they can, he said. “We’ll just keep pounding away at it,” he said.

City code says homeowners must clear their sidewalks within 24 hours after snowfall stops. If they don’t, the city will but it will charge $1 per foot of sidewalk.

Cost breakdown

After the average snowstorm, the city of Grand Forks says it pays about $18,700 to plow and remove snow.

Here’s the breakdown:

• $2,500 for bolt-on cutting edges. These are metal pieces bolted to the bottom of snowplow blades so the blades don’t scrape against the street and get ruined.

• $3,300 for salt and sand. The city estimates 30 tons of each for 4 to 5 inches of snow.

• $3,600 for fuel, assuming 1,200 gallons of fuel at $3 per gallon.

• $2,000 in rental fees for equipment, such as snow plows. The city doesn’t own all the snow plows it uses.

• $5,400 of regular pay for 32 employees working eight hour days at $21 per hour.

• $1,900 for an estimated 60 hours of overtime at $31.50 per hour.

On the Web: To learn more about the city’s winter operations, go to bit.ly/1fL3g8X.

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