The Town of Derry is on track with its salt, sand and plowing budget so far.
Mike Fowler, Director of Public Works, said this week that his crews and budget are holding their own for winter 2013, and poised for success in winter 2014.
“Once the calendar hits November, we’ve learned to be prepared for anything,” Fowler said.
This year his “anything” was 10 to 12 “weather events” by New Year’s. “We have been very busy,” Fowler said.
The interesting thing this year was the range of weather events, Fowler added. They’ve worked with everything from 12 inches of pure snow to iced roads after mixed precipitation. There have been frigid days and unusually warm days.
The rain creates its own issues, Fowler said, noting that it had rained the day before his interview, and crews had to go out and put salt down. “When it refreezes, we’ll have to go back out and re-treat it,” he said.
Fowler looks at the season as a whole, from November to April 1, he said. “We had one a few years ago, on April Fool’s Day, that was 18 to 24 inches,” he recalled.
Fowler received a budget of $607,000 for winter expenses, he said. That covers four areas: employee overtime, contracted help, salt and sand and diesel fuel. As of Dec. 30 he had expended $265,000, or 44 percent of his budget.
Fowler tries to plan ahead. He noted that unlike smaller towns, he has the capacity to buy his salt early and store it in his sheds. But even so, he said that as of Dec. 29, he was at 35 percent of his salt capacity. “We are going to use it all,” Fowler said. “We’ll probably have to put out another order in late January.”
Overtime is at 40 percent, having expended $49,000 out of a budget of $120,000. These numbers are “on trend” for this time of year, according to Fowler. “Our town employees, any time they go beyond a 40-hour work week, it’s overtime,” he said. He added that he had to commend the DPW crews for coming out in all kinds of weather conditions so Derry drivers can have passable roads.
The contracted help line, for drivers who plow with their own vehicles, is at 27 percent, or $55,000 out of the $207,000 budgeted, he said. But he added that is because all the invoices aren’t in from previous storms.
Fowler said there is typically a two-week stretch in January and February when things stay dry. But with the weather of past years in mind, he’s taking “one day at a time, one storm at a time.
“The crews are holding up well, the equipment is holding up well,” Fowler said.
But there are days when even salt doesn’t work, Fowler said. “It is limited in its effectiveness when the temperature drops below 15 degrees,” he said.
And we’ve seen a lot of that lately.
For example, Fowler said, the Jan. 2 and 3 snowstorm came with colder temperatures. “By Friday, the majority of the roads had ice packed on them,” he said.
When it’s cold, Fowler said, the salt doesn’t have the ability to break the chemical bond of the ice and snow.
He had a strategy, he said. “We cleared the roads the best we could on Thursday and Friday, then scheduled crews to come in on Saturday to put the chemical treatment down,” he said. An increase in vehicular traffic on the weekend also helped to melt the ice, he added.
In Southern New Hampshire, snowstorms are rarely accompanied by those frigid temperatures, he added. Some communities put sand out when it’s below freezing, but his crews only put it on trouble spots such as intersections and hills. It varies from town to town, he said.
January storms are usually accompanied by 25 to 30 degree temperatures in the daytime, he said except for last week.
February and March storms are easier to clean up, Fowler added. The sun is at a higher angle and they’re more able to “break the bond” and dissolve the ice.
“This storm was cold from the beginning,” he said, “and the cars went over the snow and packed it down.”