City staff, commission review winter plan

City staff presented the Dickinson City Commission with a winter operations plan for their input. The public works department has reviewed the plan and is now looking to other entities for their opinions in order to make a more comprehensive, und...

Pickup truck plows are better suited to remove the top layers of lighter snow rather than compacted snow and ice closer to the road. Photo by Ellie Potter/The Dickinson Press
City staff worked 16-hour days during this past snowstorm clearing the roads. Photo by Ellie Potter/The Dickinson Press

City staff presented the Dickinson City Commission with a winter operations plan for their input.

The public works department has reviewed the plan and is now looking to other entities for their opinions in order to make a more comprehensive, understandable plan than there has been in the past, said Darryl Wehner, the city's chief street maintenance operator, at the commission meeting Monday evening.

"We wrote it as guidelines instead of a policy because a policy says, 'You will do it this way every time,'" Wehner said. "As you all know snowstorms aren't the same every time, ice storms aren't the same, so we wrote it as guidelines to get some leeway so the people in charge can make the decision depending on the current conditions."

The commission and city staff discussed the streets that the city has not accepted and are therefore still the responsibility of the developer to maintain. While the city is under no requirement to maintain these streets, the large snowfall could pose a safety concern if emergency services are unable to access people in some of these areas because of unplowed roads.

Commissioner Carson Steiner suggested the city contact the developers and offer to plow those roads and be reimbursed for that service in addition to looking at the agreements with the developers to see what the city's options are. Ultimately all roads need to be accessible to emergency services, said Mayor Scott Decker.


"An agreement is going to be essential so that we can provide a service, a level of accessibility for police, for fire, for ambulance, and it also allows them to participate in their lives, so they can go to work and they're not feeling like they're stranded on an island, that we left them out there," Decker said.

He also noted that the city may want to consider making sure those roads were at least passable as a preemptive plan, so snowplows would not face several feet of snow or ice that would delay help in case of an emergency.

However, because those roads are not accepted by the city, the city could be liable for any damage to those roads or in those areas as a result of the plowing, Wehner said.

Public Works Director Gary Zuroff said that the department was looking into ways to better communicate with the public. They are considering establishing a hotline for people to call into, software for apps and using more social media.

Zuroff also said the department is under even more pressure now having to cover more miles of roads with the same sized staff.

"In 1986 we had 250 lane miles with 10 employees working the street department, and in 2016 we have over 450 lane miles to maintain, and we still have 10 employees in the street department," he said. "... So almost double the lane miles with the same number of employees."

The city pulled people from other public works areas - including water, sewer, storm and landfill - to assist in the snow removal last month, but those departments begin to suffer after a few days, he said. He also thanked the commissioners for some of the equipment his department was able to buy for snow removal because of the commission.

City Administrator Shawn Kessel said that the commission normally would not offer advice on such a plan as a policy-making body, but because of the plan's significance and the people affected the department decided to ask for the commission's input.


Zuroff said the department hopes to have the plan finalized and on the city's website by the end of January assuming there are no major revisions or additions needed.

Ultimately Decker asked for the citizens and city staff to both be patient.

"I know you have daily activities that you need to attend to, but at the same time we're working as hard as we can," he said. "Our people put in those 16-hour days. We're hiring contractors as we see it."

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