Sunday, September 23, 2018
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Let it snow, let it blow, let it snow

City crew up early to clear streets.

Early mornings and lots of coffee are the city’s secrets to thoroughfares cleared of snow by the time most people venture from their homes.

At least in Corey Cooper’s view.

Cooper works for Gothenburg’s water and sewer department.

Street department employee Gary Suhr is the oldest in the city’s four public works departments that include street, electrical, water and sewer and wastewater treatment.

Suhr, who’s removed snow from the city for nearly 25 years, described his 12 coworkers as like a well-oiled machine when they remove snow.

“We all work together,” he said. “Shane will plow and Bruce is always willing to help.”

Shane Gruber is city services director and Bruce Clymer is city administrator.

The crew took a break at the city shop Christmas Eve morning from clearing about five inches of the white stuff that fell Dec. 23.

Another two inches were added Thursday and Friday with recorded wind gusts of up to 59 mph that caused drifting throughout the city and visibility problems on state roads and highways and Interstate 80.

During the break, Gruber attributed efficient removal to the fact that “everyone knows what they’re doing.”

“We work together and just have a good crew,” Gruber said. “We may have a slim crew but we’ve got the whole town covered in about six hours.”

Cooper said cooperation by the public in keeping their vehicles off the street during a snowstorm and not driving around while the crew is working is also key.

When snow is forecast, the crew begins preparation the day before.

“We have the plows on our trucks and the sand in the boxes,” Suhr explained. “We make sure all the equipment has fuel and the blades are in good shape.”

Gruber said they were ready for a foot or more of snow before the last storm but it hit areas south and east harder.

Suhr said the emergency snow route, 10 major arterials in town, is cleaned first followed by the streets around the school and the downtown area and finally residential streets.

With heavy snow, the white stuff is piled in the middle of the street downtown and later trucked to the airport.

In most cases, the crew is out by 4 a.m. clearing streets before people go to work and school.

When there’s freezing rain, like the night of Dec. 22, Suhr said they’re out throwing sand and salt around intersections and stop signs.

Asked about the worst snowstorm he remembers, Suhr said it was probably when he worked “out in the open” for the Nebraska Department of Roads.

In Gothenburg, he said most of the snow and drifting occurs from 20th to 27th Street.

“One time, Gary Dishman (who’s now retired) and I worked 12-hour shifts,” Suhr said as he bladed snow on Cottonwood Drive. “There was heavy snow and a lot of wind.”

Gruber said the Oct. 30 storm that dropped about a foot of heavy, wet snow was a nightmare for the city crew.

“People were stuck all over town,” he said. “Tree branches were down and people were out driving around and getting stuck.”

Fall and spring snow, which is usually wetter and heavier, is always harder to remove, Gruber said.

“But in the spring, the weather is warmer so it goes away pretty fast,” he said.

Three major snowstorms in October and snow in November and December may cause residents to wonder about the snow removal budget with more winter to come.

Not to worry, Clymer said.

“We don’t have a snow budget but do budget for fuel and maintenance,” Clymer said. “It typically averages out every year.

“Some years we won’t use all the budget and some years we do.”

Clymer said they typically over budget in case there’s more snow than expected.

“We still have a long ways to go,” he said about winter weather this year.

Since Suhr started removing snow, equipment has changed the most.

For example, trucks are equipped with electric mechanisms where drivers flip a switch to start sanding.

“I used to have to stand in the back of the box and throw out gravel with a scoop shovel,” he said about when he first worked for the state roads department.

Suhr also used to wear three pairs of jeans to keep warm compared to the insulated jeans and coveralls now available.

Currently, the city has two maintainers, two Bobcats, two trucks with plows and sanders, a pay loader and a snowblower to remove snow.

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