- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
In terms of snowfall, it’s been about an average winter in St. Mary’s County. But because of back-to-back winter storms coupled with abnormally cold temperatures, the cost to clean up county-maintained roads has exceeded $500,000 this season.
It’s only the third time in 30 years that it has cost more than half a million dollars to remove snow, George Erichsen, director of the St. Mary’s County Department of Public Works and Transportation, told the county commissioners Tuesday.
Depending on the location, between 13 and 21 inches of snow have fallen so far this winter, according to the department. The average snowfall in St. Mary’s County is 16 inches.
“It’s coming down right now, nothing to worry about,” Erichsen told the commissioners Tuesday morning as snow flurries fell, but didn’t stick to the roads.
The commissioners authorized $506,000 to cover snow removal costs this winter, as the public works and transportation department used 3,542 tons of salt, 1,857 hours of overtime for county staff and 2,125 hours of contractor equipment rental, Erichsen said.
The winter of 2009-2010 cost St. Mary’s about $680,000 as up to 62 inches of snow fell in parts of the county — a new seasonal record. The winter of 1995-1996 cost $546,512, when 59 inches of snow were recorded in Hollywood.
For heavy snows, the public works and transportation department calls out contractors, which can run from $2,000 to $4,000 per hour for the contractor fleet, Erichsen said. This winter, “a lot of the mobilization occurred after hours,” he said. The Feb. 12-14 storms came back to back and the snow was heavy and wet, which only slowed down operations.
Putting salt down on roadways is only effective to a point.
When the temperature falls below 15 degrees, it doesn’t work very well, said Richard Tarr, highways manager for the public works department.
The 4 to 5 inches of snow that fell on Jan. 21 were accompanied by low temperatures in the single digits that week.
Working eight- to 12-hour shifts plowing snow and spreading salt “can be a long, long night” for crews, Tarr said.
Commenting on the Maryland State Highway Administration’s efforts to keep roads clear this winter, Commissioner Dan Morris (R) told Tarr, “They did all right, you guys did excellent.”
“We’re certainly not perfect. If we make a mistake ... we’ll be glad to go back out and fix it,” Tarr said.
“We have a fund balance,” Commissioner Todd Morgan (R) said. “We save it for snow storms, hurricanes. We have sufficient funds to take care of the problems.”
The commissioners have $300,000 in an emergency appropriations account, plus another $23.5 million in unspent funds.