By Derek Liebig
Despite heavy storms and more snow this winter than in recent years, local highway departments are holding their own.
With less than half of the season left, area towns are reporting enough salt, sand and budgetary allotments to make it through the remainder of winter. But it hasn’t been easy.
“It’s been tough,” Whitehall Highway Superintendent Louie Pratt said. “We’ve been fortunate in the past few years, but this year Old Man Winter got us.
Pratt, who received 75 tons of salt on Monday, said he has already ordered 510 tons of salt this year, 30 tons short of the total allotment the town is allowed to receive under its contract with the state. The price of salt increases 10 percent for anything he orders beyond 540 tons.
“I’ve used more salt this year than the last two years combined and there’s still 10 weeks of winter left,” Pratt said.
Despite the increase, Pratt is confident the highway department has enough salt, sand and money to get through the remainder of the winter. Beyond that, the outlook is less certain.
“We’ll be alright into spring, but its next December we have to worry about. You can’t forget next December, that’s on the budget too,” Pratt said.
He said the town will likely have to dip into its reserves to ensure there is enough salt and sand for the beginning of next winter.
“We’ll have to dip into the fund balance, I just don’t know how much,” Pratt said.
Although several large snowstorms have kept the highway department busy, he said the cold weather has been the bigger concern this year.
“The cold weather in December and January is what really hammered us,” he said. “The trucks never sat tight.”
The cold temperatures make the task of clearing roads more time consuming, driving up the department’s overtime. Pratt said the highway department racked up close to 200 hours of overtime in January alone.
He said the department has already used up 35 percent of its allotted overtime with three months left, but believes the department will stay within its budgeted overtime hours.
This winter has been just as busy in Hampton, said Highway Superintendent Herb Sady, who like Pratt received a load of salt on Monday.
“It’s been very busy,” Sady said. “But we’re right on line. The overtime is more but that’s because we’ve been out there more. The guys have been doing a great job.”
Although most lost highway department have said overtime is up, most expect to remain their overtime budgets will remain in line. That doesn’t mean it hasn’t taken its toll though.
“The guys have had plenty of that; they’re ready for a break,” Granville Highway Superintendent Eric Towne said.
The biggest issue moving forward isn’t snow, but potholes.
“That’s going to be the issue shortly. As it starts to warm up the pot holes are going to come back,” Pratt said.
He said crews will have to spend time repairing the main roadways, such as Buckley and Hatch Hill Roads, and likely won’t be able to spend as much time tending to the secondary roads.
He said the bigger concern could be what happens when the snow melts.
“Water problems could be significant,” Pratt said.
He said as temperatures warm, the snow melts across the roadway and crews have to salt those areas as the temperatures drop at night.
Sady said he wasn’t concerned with the pothole but concedes the town’s grader will probably see plenty of use this spring.
“We’ll get out there once the snow melts about mid-July,” he joked.