Sept. 28, 2019

Mallory Herrmann

The city is preparing to do battle again, with an annual update on snow removal operations ahead of a winter that is already being dubbed a “polar coaster” of extreme cold and snow.

Though the temps were still in the 90s during the Sept. 17 session, the city council heard from Shawn Graff, assistant director of public works operations, about the city’s rules of engagement for snow removal, training and equipment planning and battle plan for this year’s snow.

But the focus wasn’t just on the city’s two 3,000-ton salt domes that are filled and ready to go or the personnel behind snow operations. Communication has been an issue and city staff are working to better inform residents of the city’s goals – and the challenges they face.

Steve Arbo, city manager, emphasized that in many snows, the biggest variables are out of their control. How effective the snow removal operation is depends on everything from sunshine and wind to the quality of snow and amount of previous precipitation received. If the snow is particularly heavy or wet, for instance, not all trucks are up to the task.

A snow with little wind and lots of sunshine can be removed quickly and efficiently, leaving residents saying, “Finally, the city has done it right!” But the next one may be harder to confront, and people can get angry very quickly.

Arbo said the city understands. “Who isn’t angry when it’s been three or four days and the snow plow hasn’t hit your street?”

But both Arbo and Graff asked for patience and understanding.

The city prioritizes arterial roads and uses 12-hour shifts to fuel around-the-clock efforts, but sometimes it’s just not enough. Last winter, crews had begun clearing secondary roads when another snow event occurred. They had to start over with the primary roads (streets like Chipman, Douglas and Woods Chapel and roads that connect to hospitals and fire stations) and many residential streets felt like they’d been forgotten and left behind.

“It happens to every street in town – all at once,” he said, noting that the city is responsible for plowing and treating more than 1,000 miles of road across the city.

Graff explained that the city’s 48-hour goal is not to have all streets cleared of snow within that timeframe. The goal is to provide adequate mobility so that if people really need to get somewhere, they can do so safely.

“We want to make the city proud,” Graff said.

For more information about the city’s snow removal policies and ongoing operations, visit