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Plowing through: Stark County officials struggle with blizzard

Record amounts of snowfall landed on the Western Edge this week. We spoke with Stark County Roads Superintendent Al Heiser to find out more about road conditions.

Stuck in the snow
A car is stuck at West Ridge Apartments in Dickinson, near Wells Fargo.
Jason O'Day / The Dickinson Press

STARK COUNTY, N.D. — The weather outside has been frightful in Stark County this week. No one has grappled with this storm quite like Stark County Roads Superintendent Al Heiser and his crew at the county roads department.

What struck Heiser the most is how important the ambulance service is to the community.

“The biggest thing is, a guy never really realizes how busy the ambulance folks are until they can’t go and the roads are blocked,” Heiser said. “There’s an ambulance stuck right now as we speak, east of Richardton. So I have to send a plow over there to get them out.”

Heiser urged citizens to pay attention to and take seriously the advisories of local authorities for their own safety and that of civil service workers. He also cautioned anyone who does get stuck to clear snow away from their exhaust pipe.

Pushing snow
A driver pushes snow with his loader tractor Sunday morning in an apartment complex parking lot off 21st Street West in Dickinson.

“We can advise no travel, some people don’t heed to it. Those are the people that we have to go out and rescue after thinking they can get somewhere, but that’s just the way it is,” he said. “Last night we had a couple that was stuck on Highway 10, needed to get to the airport in Bismarck so we tried to rescue them. We ended up running in a ditch and had to get rescued ourselves.”

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Warm weather leading up to the blizzard made road conditions even more perilous, Heiser explained.

“The pavement was so warm, when it got snow that actually melted and turned to ice. So you really have to be careful so you don’t slide off. If you get into one of those big snow drifts, it takes a little bit of horsepower to get off and then sometimes you can get yourself in trouble,” he said.

The Stark County Roads Department has five loaders, five plow trucks and 12 motor graters. Heiser said one of the loaders has an implement capable of splitting into a V to take care of particularly deep and heavy snow.

“It slices it, then scoops it out and blows it to either side of the road. These big drifts, that’s the only way you can get over them. Otherwise your front wheels pick up and drive over it,” he said.

SNOWMAGEDON2.jpg
With roads all but closed, many emergency responders and medical staff in Dickinson have relied on the assistance of citizens in snowmobiles to get to and from work. (Submitted photo)
Dickinson Press File Photo

Heiser added that he was pleasantly surprised to hear from Roughrider Electric that they’ve had no power outages during this storm. He also asked the public to be patient, as county officials are working hard to plow through this tough time.

“One thing I can say is, please have patience. We can only cover so much ground at a time. Today is kind of getting Highway 10 open. Tomorrow we’ll be full throttle trying to get everything plowed open,” he said. “We’ll probably have to get some snow blowers. There’s places drifted in so deep we’ll probably have to snow blow our way through.”

In a community briefing sent out Thursday morning, Dickinson Interim City Administrator Dustin Dassinger said a no-travel advisory remains in effect.

The Dickinson Public Works Department's Environmental Compliance Specialist Leah Upchurch said city workers are doing their best to clear the roads quickly.

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"Our crews are working hard and putting in overtime to dig out Dickinson," Upchurch said. "I was told they were getting ready to start downtown. That's the area where they blow the snow and actually haul it out because obviously we need the side of the road for parking."

She added that residents can follow the City of Dickinson Facebook page for more frequent updates.

A Turbo blizzard
Joan Paulson, who lives near St. Joe's Plaza in Dickinson, said the snow was too deep even for her dog Turbo.
Contributed / Joan Paulson

Aaron Praus is the Solid Waste and Recycling Manager for the City of Dickinson. Praus sought to remind drivers to watch out for heavy machinery once the no-travel advisory is lifted.

“Be aware of the plows, there’s many of them flowing throughout the community. We’re hoping to hit a lot of the areas throughout the evening and into the early morning. A lot of the crews will be running 24 hours, so they have a rotation of people coming in,” he said, adding that it’s an all plows on the pavement effort. “We’re using every contractor we have access to and is willing to help us at this moment, and every city employee that is able to give us a hand.”

Like Heiser, Praus said they’ve had to use snowblowers in many sections because the drifts are so deep. Now that many of the Level 1 and 2 roads have been adequately cleared, Praus said they have some crews working residential areas.

“We have the contractors and some city personnel working in residential areas, focusing on at least trying to get two lanes of travel through each residential street. Then we’re hoping to assist homeowners in getting through that big windrow from the first plow that comes through,” Praus added.

Jason O’Day is a University of Iowa graduate, with Bachelor’s Degrees in Journalism and Political Science. Before moving to Dickinson in September of 2021, he was a general news reporter at the Creston News Advertiser in southwest Iowa. He was born and raised in Davenport, Iowa. With a passion for the outdoors and his Catholic faith, he’s loving life on the Western Edge. His reporting focuses on Stark County government and surrounding rural communities.
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