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The ins and outs of city snowplowing

With snowplow season underway, Dickinson officials will once again mull over use of a snowplow tool to reduce driveway accumulation at a City Commission meeting beginning at 5:15 p.m. Monday at City Hall.

City Public Information Officer Bill Fahlsing said once there are about four inches of snow, when snowfall ceases the plowing begins.

The most common complaint the city receives about snow removal is regarding driveways, he said.

City Engineer Shawn Soehren said the department has done its research on the viability of snow gates -- a snowplow attachment that can reduce driveway accumulation when plows go by -- and said street departments in several communities claim the tool is high maintenance with several accompanying issues.

Soehren said if snow is too heavy and too deep, the snow gates are not functional.

"They definitely create a slower operation as a whole," Soehren said. "Bismarck for example when we talked with them, when they went to the snow gates, it slowed their process 30 to 50 percent slower. They actually added eight additional full-time employees and four additional pieces of equipment to accommodate the use of snow gates."

Jack Sjol, Williston's public works maintenance superintendent, said the city has used a similar device for 20 years and "they're well worth whatever they cost."

"Dickinson needs to get snow gates," Sjol said. "They make a big difference for people. When the operators get used to using them, they're a good device."

During a "snow emergency," Dickinson crews concentrate efforts on snow emergency routes and remove snow based on a level system.

Level one areas include main roads such as State Avenue, west Villard Street, South Main and Third Avenue West and receive the highest priority, according to a city press release.

The Street Department strives to make streets in level one passable within six hours of the time snowfall stops, level two routes passable within 10 hours, downtown areas within 24 hours, and the remainder of the city within 48 hours after snowfall ceases, according to the press release.

"Normally, the streets should be cleared well within these time goals, however there will be times it may take longer," according to the release.

However, if the city experiences more snow before streets are cleared, the time frames and process starts over, meaning those in low-priority areas will wait twice as long for snow removal, Fahlsing confirmed.

"If we know that we're going to get another significant amount of snow, they'll wait until the storm stops," Fahlsing said.

The city will plow in all areas of town so vehicles are passable and once all streets are plowed, will go back and scoop up the snow, Fahlsing said.

Soehren said if the snow were to be scooped up as it was plowed, it would add four to five hours to the process.

With seven city employees assisting with snow removal on about 130 miles of city streets, parking lots and alleys, Fahlsing said the efforts can be short staffed at times.

"All departments are trying to hire people and a lot of it just comes down to money," Fahlsing said. "We've got to prioritize what projects we have and you know, try to factor in employee raises."

During initial removal efforts, additional public works personnel will help out, Soehren said.

A "typical" snowstorm can cost the city $50,000 to $60,000 for snow removal, Soehren said.

The city contracts Tooz Construction Inc. to remove snow north of Interstate 94, Big K Industries Inc. to remove south of Broadway, Onsite Construction also assists and parking lots are contracted out, Soehren said.