MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Local News

March 8, 2014

SUNDAY EXTRA: Snow removal costs city $7,000

Engineer praises street workers’ ‘exceptional job’

The recent winter storm forced events to be canceled and resulted in additional expenses as city, county and state crews worked to clear the roadways and deal with weather-related issues.

City officials estimate that the city of Muskogee spent approximately $7,000 to clear the streets of ice and snow following the recent storm.

During the storm city employees operated two large trucks on the east and west sides of town and a small truck on the interior, or downtown, area. Approximately 100 gallons of fuel were needed, and the city spent approximately $1,500 for equipment and fuel, said Kimbra Scott, a spokeswoman for the city. Approximately 500 tons of a sand/salt mixture were placed on the city streets, at an expense of about $2,500.

Labor expenses were approximately $3,000, which paid for three crews with two members each at approximately 16 hours of overtime each day.

“Our crews did an exceptional job of cleaning up the city,” said Prag Mahajah, civil engineer. “The city was back to normal as soon as the storm was over.”

Oklahoma Department of Transportation crews were out late Saturday night, just before midnight, pre-treating the highways “because of the falling temperature, high humidity, mist and fog,” said Darren Saliba, division engineer with Field Division 1. The division is responsible for the state’s east central eight counties.

Precipitation in the area began around 9 or 10 a.m. Sunday and continued until about 6 a.m. Monday morning. During that time, the area had freezing rain, snow, very heavy sleet and then snow again, Saliba said.

“Temperatures were between 3 and 5 degrees on Sunday night,” he said. “So things were locked up pretty tight on the roadways.”

DOT employees continued to treat and plow the highways while the precipitation fell, but the plowing wasn’t very effective until early Monday afternoon, when the temperatures hit the low 20s. Then, crews were able to begin focusing on the secondary areas of the roadways — the ramps and the loops, he said.

The most recent storm had a “unique feature” to it, Saliba said. About 4 inches of sleet fell in a matter of 45, minutes and there was also thunder and lightning.

“That resulted in additional ice pack on the roadway in a very short period of time,” he said.

 ODOT crews worked 12-hour shifts, around the clock.

“We stay with it until the roads are clear to the best of our ability,” he said.

Muskogee County Commissioner for District 1, Gene Wallace, said most weather-related events “put a huge strain on your budget” including overtime for employees, fuel costs and additional sand and salt for the roads.

The recent event is no exception.

“Virtually every operator was getting overtime,” he said.

District employees graded many of the roads and used a salt and sand mixture on others.

“Our goal is to try to get as much moisture off the roads as possible” so roads won’t be damaged as they thaw out, Wallace said. “We’re hoping we won’t have any more (snow and ice events) this winter.”

During the recent snow and ice event, District 1 ran only two trucks to clear the road, because one was damaged during the previous weather event, he said. There were no injuries, but the vehicle will need to be replaced, he said.

The expenses from the most recent weather event will not be known until the end of the month, Wallace said.

Crews in District 2, which is in the southern part of Muskogee County, put down two loads of a sand and salt mixture, at an expense of about $300 per load, said District 2 Commissioner Stephen Wright.

A crew of five employees worked to make the roads passable, and each worked about eight hours of overtime during the last weather event, Wright said.

The latest round of wintry precipitation was different from the others this winter, he said.

“It was so cold that this was different from most of them,” he said.

The major expenses from the cold are yet to come, he said. The freezing and the thawing of the roads causes potholes, and Wright said his crews have started filling them in.

District 3 County Commissioner Dexter Payne said his crews used about $5,000 in materials on the roads in the western part of the county.

Additional overtime hours were not required for this weather event; however, the district has had overtime expenses following other weather events this winter, Payne said.

As with previous weather-related events, the crews prioritized by need the clearing of the roads, Payne said. They focused first on the most dangerous areas in the district and the areas where residents live who have serious medical issues, followed by the school routes and the mail routes.

“Most of my crew are seasoned hands,” he said. “They’ve been there a long time. It comes natural to them. They know what the job is and what they need to do. We call them into action and they do it.”

Police on the streets also had plenty of issues to deal with. Additional personnel or overtime hours were not required, but officers were busy, said Cpl. Michael Mahan.

“There was definitely a heavier call volume with weather-related calls,” Mahan said.

Officers also helped with transporting several dialysis patients to medical facilities, he said.

The Muskogee County Sheriff’s Department depends on reserve officers when unusual situations, such as inclement weather, arise.

Sheriff Charles Pearson said he appreciates the work of all members of his department, including the work of the reserve deputies, also known as the sheriff’s patrol.

“Those guys come out in full force when we need them,” he said.

The reserve deputies are certified through the Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training and assist the department with many duties —  security transports, responding to domestic calls, and receiving calls for service and completing reports, the sheriff said.

Members of the sheriff’s department often check on individuals who are homebound during extreme weather events.

“We have a lot of shut-ins that we check on,” he said. “These men and women (reserve deputies) are really good about doing that.”

The department was prepared for the snow and ice, Pearson said.

“There are not any obstacles that we’re not prepared for,” he said.

Many people decided to stay home and stay off the streets. That created a delay for the Muskogee County Court Clerk’s Office.

Inclement weather forced one trial to be rescheduled Monday, said Paula Sexton, Muskogee County court clerk.

This was the first time Sexton said she can recall when a jury trial was rescheduled because of weather conditions.

“It caught us all off guard,” Sexton said.

Approximately 35 to 40 jurors were scheduled to be at the courthouse Monday. However, snowy, icy roads kept several at home, and only 20 jurors were able to travel to the courthouse, Sexton said.

As a result, a trial was rescheduled and the jurors were sent home.

Members of the jury pool who traveled to the courthouse Monday did receive their payment for the day — each were paid $20, Sexton said.

As a result of the situation last Monday, Sexton said a new juror notification procedure has been established.

Previous procedures required members of the jury pool to call a Wide-Area Telephone (WATs) line after 4:30 p.m. to find out if they were required to be at the courthouse the next business day.

On Friday afternoon, court personnel prepared the message with instructions for certain jurors to report for duty Monday morning. That was the last message jurors received.

Sexton said a new answering machine has been purchased, which can be changed remotely. In the future, if there is inclement weather and a trial will be rescheduled, the message for jurors can be changed.

In the future, Sexton said jurors will be instructed to check the WATs line for new instructions “if they think there’s a possibility that court may not be held,” she said. Sexton added that she is planning to notify jurors of the new procedures Monday morning.

Reach Anita Reding at (918) 684-2903 or areding@muskogeephoenix.com.

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