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Road crews throw as many hours and pieces of equipment at plowing efforts as possible ... and still struggle to keep roads clear

PHOTO COURTESY OF CITY OF PRINEVILLE - Road crews throw as many hours and pieces of equipment at plowing efforts as possible.

"It's a 24/7 operation. There is no stop," Peter Murphy, ODOT spokesman remarked.

"Lots of extra hours went into it," Tiffanie Bottoms, Crook County's assistant road master said. "Some of our crews were almost working double shifts."

"Generally, to plow the entire town it takes three, 12-hour days," added Eric Klann, City of Prineville engineer and recently recruited snow plow driver. "Due to the prolonged snow storm, we have had to plow the downtown core, arterials and collectors three days in a row."

Last week, when a massive snowstorm unloaded as much as 2 feet of snow in Crook County in just 24 hours and heaped on another 5 inches midweek, road crews from the state to the local level were called upon to clear the roads and make travel possible on everything from highways to community roads.

It was a battle that ODOT, Crook County Road Department and City of Prineville Public Works Department fought with as many bodies, pieces of equipment and hours as they could scrape together, and Mother Nature still had the upper hand in the early going.

"It's not possible," Bottoms said about keeping up with the initial wave of the storm. She remembers fielding phone calls from county residents wondering when snow plows would get to Juniper Canyon beyond the local fire station. She had to tell them that county crews had been there since 3 a.m. — six hours earlier.

"The snow was coming down so fast, the truck makes a turnaround and its pass to come back, you can't even see their tracks," she said. "It's continuous."

Meanwhile, city workers found themselves retracing their steps in an ongoing effort to keep the highest priority roads open.

"On Monday, Feb. 25, we brought the snow removal team, including myself and (assistant city engineer Mike Kasberger) in at 4 a.m. and worked until 4 p.m., clearing the downtown core, life safety routes, arterials and collectors," Klann recalls. "We then came back in at 12:30 a.m. on Tuesday and worked until around noon. Once again, we had to re-plow all of the streets we had done the day prior. On Wednesday the 27th, we once again came in at 12:30 a.m. and worked until around 10 a.m. re-plowing all of our critical streets."

Because city and county crews both prioritize emergency service routes first, followed by main roads throughout the community, work on residential streets had to wait.

"We have crews who are dedicated to certain areas. Then in those areas, they have a priority list of where to start," Bottoms said of the county snow removal efforts. "We open up the main passes — Juniper Canyon (Road) and Davis (Loop), Powell Butte Highway, Millican (Road) and McKay (Road) — and then after that is when they start filling in the lesser traveled roads."

Klann noted that under normal circumstances, city crews will get to the residential streets after plowing the emergency service roads, downtown streets and school routes. But these weren't normal circumstances.

"As we have been tied up with the priority streets, we have yet to make it out to the residential neighborhoods," he said. "Most of the residential streets are now packed down and the driveways have been cleared. If we were to go in and plow now, we would block all of the driveways and vehicles parked on the streets. This is when people become very frustrated with public works. For now, we will hold off on residential plowing and watch the weather."

Klann added that if they had plowed the residential streets and covered over driveway exits, mailboxes and parked cars, they could have brought in loaders to clear the driveways and mailboxes but cars would have to get dug out by hand.

He said that complaints have escalated to threats against city crews when they have plowed residential streets and blocked cars that the owners had previously dug out.

While ODOT, county and city crews each dealt with different roads and separate circumstances during the recent snowstorms, they all had to rely on every employee and piece of equipment they could get their hands on to do the work.

"Every available person, every available piece of equipment has been working," Murphy said of ODOT's efforts – which have continued nonstop since the first storm hit almost two weeks ago. "We have been sharing resources from Prineville into other parts of this particular district, the other Central Oregon cities. We have been cross-sharing gear. As something goes down or as somebody gets more snow than somebody else, we are moving people hither and yon to make sure that we are covering."

Murphy added that ODOT has not yet been able to tally the number of extra man hours or equipment used on local highways.

Crook County committed 14 people to the snow removal effort during the past couple weeks. On Monday, crews had begun breaking up the ice on the roadways and clearing road shoulders. Details on how many extra hours employees worked had yet to get compiled by press deadline.

The city has leaned on anywhere from 12 to 16 employees to keep roads cleared in what Klann called an "all hands on deck" situation. Crews utilized three graders, three backhoes, two loaders (one of which was borrowed from Crook County Fairgrounds), two sanders, a pickup plow and a plow/sander combo.

"If we look at equipment costs, fuel costs and overtime costs, we spend a little over $10,000 per day plowing," Klann said. "Once we plow the downtown core to the center, we are tasked with removing that snow. Last Sunday, we had three public works employees working on this with eight rented dump trucks with drivers. They worked all night and removed the center snow. A night like that would easily cost $10,000 as well."

As snow removal workers have toiled during the past couple weeks to clear the roads, little time has been left available for the employees to deal with whatever issues arise at their own homes because of the storms.

"Us 12 to 16 guys have mothers and fathers and families of our own that have been kicked to the side along with our personal property," said City Street Supervisor Scott Smith. "When we put all of this time into doing stuff for the citizens, our stuff gets put to the side, and we have to deal with all of the damage later."

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