VALPARAISO | When they aren't plowing fresh snow from the streets, Valparaiso city crews are pushing back the old snow or hauling it away to make room for the next storm.
Public Works Director Matt Evans said the winter has presented his department with challenges it hasn't had to deal with for some time besides running low on salt and having to mix it with sand and calcium chloride. He said dealing with the sand is one of the challenges.
"We're doing fine with the salt," he said. "We adjusted just in time by mixing sand with it to also help with the traction. We started at 2 to 1 and now we are mixing it 50-50 with a little calcium chloride to melt it faster. Now the challenge will be to clean up the sand after spring comes."
The sand can't be left on the street to wash down the sewers because it will clog up the screens at the sewage treatment plant. It has to be removed with the street sweepers and taken to a landfill. Before it can be dumped there, it has to be tested for contaminants like oil and antifreeze.
The city has to apply for a permit from the Indiana Department of Environmental Management to be allowed to use it, and IDEM doesn't always grant permission. The sand is cheaper than salt, but, by the time the costs of dumping it in the landfill and testing it are added, the savings is minimal.
"We have to be mindful of the environment and public safety," Evans said. "People don't always realize what all goes into it, so we need to educate people on why we do what we do."
Evans said the city is having problems with snow plow contractors for private properties pushing the snow into the road or piling it along the road. It's creating sight line problems for people pulling out of driveways and frustration for residents trying to get to their mailboxes.
"We can only put so much of it in the right of way, and it's been a challenge pushing it off the roadway. In some cases we can't get close to the curb, and we have to push it back farther. We've had to help the mail service where they couldn't get close enough to the curb."
Several mailboxes have been victims of the winter, but Evans said almost all of them were hit by the snow and not the plows. Rotten posts were cited as the reason they were knocked over, and the city has been providing temporary mailboxes.
In some cases, the plow drivers weren't familiar with the road and left snow several feet from the curb until residents complained and trucks were sent back. The drifting and plowed snow is burying or tipping over garbage cans, creating problems for pickups.
Evans said cars parking on the narrow streets near Valparaiso University couldn't get close enough to the curb for the snow plows to pass. The city had to use pickup trucks with plows and worked with police to get people to move the vehicles.
The lulls between storms are used to haul away as much snow as possible. Evans said the city's utilities department helped clean snow piles in the cul de sacs. The snow is being taken to the sewage treatment plant property and the city's compost site.
"We could have snow piled into the summer at those sites," he said.