Cities, towns ponder where to put all that plowed snow
BY JAMES D. WOLF JR. Post-Tribune correspondent February 9, 2014 10:00AM
Updated: February 10, 2014 12:35PM
After the snow stops, after the shoveling, after the plowing, the question is: Where do we put all this stuff?
This year’s heavy snowfalls have left some Northwest Indiana communities faced with towering piles.
Northwest Indiana has seen about 50 to 60 inches of snow this winter, with northeast Porter County seeing more than 60 inches, meteorologist Gino Izzi of the National Weather Service said.
Last winter, Lake County and southern Porter County got 20 to 30 inches; northern Porter had 30 to 40 inches.
Some cities began hauling snow to empty city lots after the first big storm.
They also do it after storms, but “this one’s been more challenging than most,” said John Dubach, Hobart’s Director of Public Works.
Usually crews may have to haul snow once or twice a year, but they’d done it four times before the last storm.
“We send out payloaders and backhoes out regularly. We have some newer subdivisions with tight streets,” Dubach said.
They put it in empty fields, undeveloped areas, Festival Park and under power lines.
Jay Olson, Crown Point public works director, said the city has plenty of places to put the snow; the problem is finding time between storms to haul it.
Snow from the square is hauled off first to the municipal lots behind the fire department. As those fill, and they have, the snow is carted to some city green space near the girls’ softball fields by the Sportsplex.
“In the fall we mowed it down and made sure it was drivable,” he said.
Cul-de-sacs are another problem.
“There’s only so many places plows can push snow in the cul-de-sacs and when that is full the snow must be hauled off,” he said.
Marcus Malczewski, Lake County Highway Department superintendent, said snow piles do not create the same problems for the county as in cities and towns. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have to be dealt with in some way.
“Our intersections are getting pretty stacked up with snow. Once we get to a point it’s a real problem, we will go out with the loaders and push that around and try and clear that intersection,” he said.
Meanwhile, in Chesterton, “we’re trying to get away from hauling too much of it,” Street Commissioner John Schnadenberg said.
The snow goes to the closest empty lots.
Gasoline costs money, as does the time public employees spend moving the snow. Some municipalities may cut sidewalk and paving work to make up the costs.
Chesterton removes snow from cul-de-sacs, downtown areas and corners where it blocks views, and they’ve been removing snow to widen alleys so garbage trucks can collect trash.
Chesterton has spent 1,125 hours of overtime on snow removal since January, compared to 563 total overtime hours total last year.
Valparaiso hauls snow from cul-de-sacs, city parking lots and downtown and takes it to city-owned lots.
Gary spokeswoman Chelsea L. Whittington said in an email that the city’s General Service department hauls snow to nearby vacant lots as needed, including city-owned lots and the rear open areas in nearby school lots.
Rural areas have more space to work with, but not necessarily more money. In Lake County, the snow is melting through the Lake County Highway Department’s snow removal budget.
Malczewski told Lake County Council members recently that he needs to transfer some funds to cover overtime, fuel and supply costs for ongoing snow removal. Winter is not over and the department already has exceeded how much was spent on those items in 2013.
The department spent $57,000 on materials for snow removal in 2013, to date this year the department has spent $140,000. The department is doing what it can to conserve resources such as salt, to help control costs and ensure there is enough to last through this winter.
Malczewski wants to move $100,000 from his equipment rental budget and another $30,000 from the utilities and maintenance budgets to his over-time budget to cover the additional time spent on snow removal.
In rural areas of Porter County “we’re just stacking it up,” leaving it near where it fell, Porter County Highway Supervisor Al Hoagland said.
Matt Howton, Porter County Parks Manager, said so far, he’s been able to just push it farther into the grass at Sunset Hill Farm County Park, The Calumet Trail and Dunn’s Bridge.
“If we get too much more, we will load it in our dump truck and dump in the field,” Howton said.
No one’s asked, but the parks wouldn’t take street snow because salt and anything else scooped up with it could harm the fields.
Not everyone has had to haul snow.
“We’re close but we haven’t reached that point yet,” said Merrillville Public Works foreman Rich Kendera. In the past, they’ve hauled snow to the shopping area and other city properties, but he couldn’t predict when they’d do it this winter beyond when space runs out on corners and in piles.
And, notes Malczewski of the Lake County Highway Department, that work comes after all the long days and nights of plowing the snow in the first place.
“Those guys are out there two to three days at a time,” Malczewski said.
“It’s a thankless job for them,” Councilman Eldon Strong, R-Crown Point, said.
Correspondent Carrie Napoleon
contributed to this report.