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Press Photo by Katherine Grandstrand A Dickinson city snow plow works to clear an approach for a water filling station along Broadway Street on Tuesday in Dickinson.

Changes coming for Dickinson's snow removal policy

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Changes coming for Dickinson's snow removal policy
Dickinson North Dakota 1815 1st Street West 58602

Dickinson’s snow removal policy has earned some criticism as winter storm systems blanket the growing Oil Patch community. Street and fleet operations manager Brent Coulter receives at least six calls a day regarding the removal of snow throughout the city.

0 Talk about it

“Not all of them are complaints — there are some requests for sand in certain areas. We deal with those as soon as they come in,” Coulter said. “But we have been getting our share of complaints because they don’t like the way that we operate, they want us to change the way that we do things, or they’ve come from other areas where their city has done it differently or their city has had more personnel.”

Dickinson does not have a bare-roads policy — not even for key routes — the streets must be drivable but do not have to be perfectly clear, Coulter said.

“Usually when there’s 2 inches of snow that has fallen, plows will go out,” Coulter said. “Sanders (go out) as soon as it starts snowing and the roads become slippery. We have all the sanders out.”

City staff is working to change a few provisions in its policy and will bring an ordinance change to the City Commission, Coulter said.

“Right now everybody’s been so busy that we haven’t really had a chance to work on it,” Coulter said. “Change isn’t always a bad thing, but a lot of change really fast isn’t always a good thing.”

Short staffed

The streets department is having a tough time keeping up with the work it already has — nearly 600 lane miles of streets within city borders, up from 400 a few years ago — with a staff of six and a half.

“Our problem this year has been we are so short staffed that we can’t do a combination of both (plows and sanders),” Coulter said. “When we do, it kind of limits us.”

When available, the streets department will borrow staff from other departments in the city, Coulter said.

“Our biggest complaint is ‘how come you don’t have more people’ and ‘how come the city doesn’t give you more money to get more people,’” Coulter said. “It’s not that the city doesn’t want to fund more positions, it’s not that they’re holding off on it — as a matter of fact, it’s been the exact opposite. It’s just trying to find the people to fill those positions.”

The city contracts out snow removal for big storms, but the budget for such services is tight due to the end of the year, Coulter said. He doesn’t want to waste funds when there isn’t an immediate need for help, like the April 14 blizzard.

Getting the job done

In an effort to create traction on slippery intersections and patches of road, the streets department lays down sand and ice melt where appropriate.

But the sand and ice melt can have a negative effect, Stark County Roads Supervisor Al Heiser said.

“You put too much salt and sand there and then guess what, every time it snows it sticks and then you have other issues, too,” Heiser said. “There’s kind of a line between keeping them safe and putting too much on, too.”

The city in the past has used either a mix of sand and salt, or, in more recent years, strictly sand, Coulter said. But it just received it’s first shipment of de-icer.

“You do have people that don’t like salt, and they don’t like the GeoMelt because they believe that it’s going to be bad for the environment or it’s going to damage their vehicles,” Coulter said. “But used properly, it will do neither one.”

Some people wanted to move away from sand completely, but sub-zero temperatures can be too cold for ice melt to work.

Out in the county, wind can be friend or foe, Heiser said.

“Our biggest challenge is wind — when the wind comes up, if we go out and try and plow, the wind sometimes will blow it right back in,” Heiser said. “Wind can help you, too. Wind can whip it off, but a lot of places it will drift. Sometimes the wind’s not all bad.”

Both the city and county have a hierarchy of roads to clear.

In the city, the ranking goes state and federal roads the city is responsible for — Third Avenue West and Villard Street, emergency routes for medical, law enforcement and fire crews, then schools and, lastly, residential streets.

The state is responsible for state and federal highways in rural areas; Stark County is responsible for Highway 10, the Enchanted Highway, and County Road 8 that goes between Richardton and Mott, other paved county roads and then gravel roads, Heiser said.

“We have three to four plow trucks that hit the roads right away,” Heiser said. “They all leave at the same time; in a major event, everyone is rolling.”

It can take the county three to four days to completely clear all roads, Heiser said.

Safety first

There are more people on the roads, making it harder for crews to do their job, Coulter said. People have passed plows and sanding trucks on the left and right.

“Everybody’s in a hurry. Everybody has some place to go,” Coulter said. “Unfortunately that’s the world we’re in right now because of the population boom.”

It also makes more work for the Dickinson Police Department, Sgt. Kylan Klauzer said.

“The traffic accidents that we’re seeing here throughout the last couple days, they take up a large portion of the officers’ time and duties,” Klauzer said. “Depending on the severity of it, you could be looking at accidents that take up an officer — or two officers, depending on where it’s at — for anywhere up to an hour in length.”

It may take time for officers to arrive at the scene of an accident as police are driving with caution, Klauzer said.

“It’s really good for people to be aware to take that extra 10 minutes, 15 minutes to go to work so that they give themselves time to go a little bit slower,” Klauzer said. “Be aware of the vehicles in front of you, how far in front of you they are, and taking into consideration the surface the they’re on and the condition of the surface.”

Intersections along major thoroughfares tend to be the most problematic, along with roads featuring steep hills, Klauzer said.

“Water tower hill over on Fourth Avenue East is always a chore in itself for the officers,” Klauzer said. “As long as other vehicles are getting over the top, they’re willing to take a chance with it too.”

Some city streets have parking restrictions during snow emergencies — when the roads become completely impassible, Coulter said.

“Unfortunately most people don’t pay attention to the snow emergency,” Coulter said.

The city streets department needs citizen cooperation to keep the streets clear, Coulter said.

“Be patient and use caution, try to give the plows and the sanders the right-of-way,” Coulter said. “They’re out there for the public’s safety, that is what they’re there for, the safety of the traveling public.”

Katherine Grandstrand
I graduated from Bemidji State University in 2007 with a bachelor's degree in mass communcations, from Columbia College Chicago in 2009 with a master's degree in journalism.  
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