Thursday, Feb. 28 2013 4:22PM
Digging out again
By Russ Pulley
The latest foot of snow in Lee’s Summit is cleared off city streets, but piled in mountains in yards and at intersections.
As of Feb. 28, Mayor Randy Rhoads had not lifted a State of Emergency he declared on Feb. 21.
Streets are passable, but the city still wants additional costs of clearing snow to make visibility better at intersections to be eligible for possible reimbursement under the Stafford Act, Rhoads said. The cost of plowing snow for the two recent storms is an estimated $350,000 dollars.
“The important thing is to get the snow off, what it costs is what it costs,” Rhoads said. “The main thing is that people can get around safely.”
The Public Works Department finished plowing residential streets about 2 a.m. Feb. 28, opening two travel lanes on all residential streets, where cars didn’t block plows.
“Even though it was a lot of snow, the thing in our favor was the temperature stayed up,” said Bob Hartnett, deputy director of Public Works.
Snow started around 8 p.m. Feb. 25, but accumulation didn’t start for several hours because snow was melting. By then the city had pretreated all public streets in town to promote melting, he said. Life began returning to normal by Feb. 28 after the second major storm cloaked the city with 12.7 inches of new snow.
There was very light traffic Feb. 26 with many businesses, City Hall and county offices and schools closed. In contrast to the earlier storm, fewer motorists were stranded.
Lee’s Summit Police spokesman Chris Depue said that between 7 p.m. Feb. 25 to 7 a.m. Feb. 27 there were 34 stranded motorists (116 during the previous storm) and six non-injury crashes, and one crash that caused an injury.
The wet snow broke tree limbs and caused power outages for about 107,000 residents in the Kansas City Power and Light service area, which includes Lee’s Summit. Officials estimated 1,200 of those without power for a time were Lee’s Summit residents. Service was restored to 99 percent by Feb. 28, KCP&L said on its website.
City Hall reopened Feb. 27, as did parks recreation centers and the county and residents began traveling again. Schools reopened on Feb. 28.
The city is still working to clean up piles of snow, and it’s assessing costs.
Sharon Quigley, assistant to the City Manager, a week earlier told the City Council’s Budget Committee that a six-month snapshot of the general fund showed the city was on track to run a deficit of about $275,185. But she said that picture could change, one factor that might help was if there was cold weather but no snow.
Snowstorm Q, ironically as designated by the Weather Channel, hit Feb. 21 and dashed those hopes.
Public Works officials said it costs about $35,000 a shift while the city is snow fighting. During the storms crews work 12-hour shifts, 24 hours a day.
City Manager Steve Arbo said that because of mild conditions earlier in the snow season, the city doesn’t anticipate going over its budgeted amount for snow removal.
“However, the city was hoping to use savings from not having a significant snow storm to continue building our reserve balance,” he said.
Arbo said the city might get partial reimbursement of snow related expenses if the storms are declared a federal disaster by Federal Emergency Management Agency. At a later date analysis will be finished to determine whether damage and costs related to the storm are of magnitude to qualify for funding, he said.
On Feb. 26, city department heads gathered in the city’s Emergency Operations Center, activated to coordinate the city’s response to the storm. In one room, surrounded by projected maps and information from dispatch centers, they worked in a common area to make communications direct and easy.
“We depend heavily on other departments for their manpower and equipment,” said Director of Public Works Chuck Owsley.
Alongside Public Works and the Water Utility, the city’s procurement department was there to help with getting materials if necessary. The codes department was on duty to make damage assessments, even of private structures if necessary, which would also be part of the report to FEMA.
Fire Department personnel kept detailed accounts of the incident. which would be used for later analysis, both to improve performance and for applying for damages.
“It breaks down an extremely complex process into bite-sized pieces,” Battalion Chief of Training Ken Plante said, who was taking the notes. Information gleaned from those reports will be used for analysis, both to improve performance, applying for damages and forecasting needs for future incidents, he said.
The city uses cross-trained personnel from engineering, parks and the water utility also to plow. They took on other non-traditional roles, for example, the Water Utility workers were moving broken down trees from streets.
The city has a second operations center at the Public Works building on Hamblen Road, where the “snow boss” has a computer system that tracks each truck and plow with GPS to follow which streets have been plowed.
One resident, upset that snowplows had blocked his driveway with snow after he’d shoveled it, confronted workers there. Police were called and the person left. The officer took a report and a charging document will be mailed to the suspect for disturbing the peace.
Rhoads said he had only a few complaints about city’s attack on the snow.
“People really understand this was two major storms back to back,” Rhoads said. “All they have to do is look out at their driveways and think about where they’re going to get rid of their snow.”
Rhoads said that snow plowed onto driveways is an ongoing issue that doesn’t have an easy answer. The city could change its procedures, but that would mean large increases in costs for labor and delay clearing streets.
“I had to scoop the end of my driveway this morning,” Rhoads said. “If they wanted to pay the taxes to do that, it would cost an arm and a leg. I don’t think people want to do that.”