Keeping the roads clear after snow

By Gray Hughes

McGregor Street in Hill City had piles of snow on the side of the road, the only remnants of snow on the road after a snow storm hit Hill City on Dec. 30-31.

Even when it snows, the roads in Hill City need to remain clear.

That job falls to Daniel Pladson, public works director for Hill City, and his crew.

“We have three main plows, trucks with the plows on the front and the sander on the back, and we just plow everything to the edge of the road,” Pladson said. “Then we later come and pick up on the areas downtown, and we pick it back up, and then the sidewalks we use the Bobcat on the sidewalks that the city is liable for.”

Pladson and his crew are responsible for plowing every street within the city limits of Hill City as well as the parking lots at the Hill City Senior Center, the visitor’s center, city hall and the Boys and Girls Club.

Snow like the one Hill City received Dec. 30-31 doesn’t really bother Pladson and his crew, he  said.

Snowstorms during that time of year, which typically delivers up to eight inches of snow, is nothing out of the ordinary for Pladson and his crew.

“We all work well together,” Pladson said of his crew. “I am normally one of the ones in the plow truck, too. We all work together, we all take a part of town and correspond back and forth where we’re each at and stuff. One or two goes downtown here depending on how much snow and stuff.”

Typically during a snowfall, the area around the schools are Pladson and his crew’s main priority.

Snows in the beginning of the winter season are easier to clean up than a late winter storm because of the makeup of the snow, which is lighter.

Snows that come in late February, March and April typically produce a heavier snow than the snow Hill City would get during November, December or January.

“It is heavier snow, and normally more of it,” Pladson said of the late winter snows. “And at this point, we have been lucky, we have gotten time in between the storms. We have had a chance to clean up in between the storms, but if we get hit back-to-back with storms and there is more snow, then we have more lying out beside the road and there’s more to deal with because of that, but we have been lucky now. We have these warm stretches, we get a chance to clean up after, so when we get that next storm we don’t have that huge ridge on the side of the roads, so it’s better if we don’t get back to back storms.”

Hill City has been lucky that each storm the city has received this winter has been followed by days with highs in the 40s and 50s, Pladson said.

This allows snow to melt off and dry up off of the roads.

Before each storm, Pladson and his crew preps the plows by ensuring each plow truck has enough gas in it, the plows are operational and the sand spreaders are ready, filled with sand and functional.

The city uses a sand-salt mix that, Pladson said, is 20 percent salt to ensure the roads are properly treated.

Pladson and his crew will treat the roads with the sand-salt mixture until there is about an inch or two of snow on the road. After that, the plows come down and they start to get the snow off of the roads.

A recently passed ordinance from the Hill City Common Council will change the way businesses in the town need to react to snow.

The ordinance sets the time to remove snow, ice and ice and snow from the sidewalks in town to 48 hours. If the business does not remove the snow and ice, the town will remove it for them and bill the business for the labor.

The second reading of the ordinance was approved at the last Hill City Common Council meeting Dec. 27.

“In some ways it is going to help us,” Pladson said, “meaning that if the public knows what they are responsible for  the sidewalks, that helps us, but taking it back to 48 hours is going to be better because the areas we have to take care of. We go out there with the Bobcat and clean them, but then in the areas where once you plow it we have time to go back because when we first get the snow, we are concerned about getting the roads open.”

The sidewalks in the city, though, are not Pladson’s primary responsibility and concern.

Ensuring the areas around the schools are cleared is one of the first things he does, Pladson said, followed by ensuring the rest of town is clear of snow.

Pladson will use a Bobcat to ensure the sidewalks for which the city is responsible are cleared off.

And when he is doing this, there are some things the residents and visitors to Hill City needs to keep in mind, he said.

“Our biggest challenge is the traffic and the public parking when we are trying to clean the snow,” he said. “The public doesn’t pay attention to what we are trying to do, and they will park right behind us when we are trying to clean Main Street, they will park right behind us, and we are like ‘what’s going on? We have to clean this yet.’ And even when we are out on the streets they will follow right behind us and not pay attention when we are trying to plow. We could stop or back up at any time. So the biggest challenge basically is the traffic and the public parking and stuff.”