While kids were playing in the snow last week, and the week before, crews in Maple Valley and Covington were hard at work keeping the roads clear for drivers and pedestrians.
Both cities got an unofficial estimated amount of 18 inches of snow accumulated throughout the last two weeks, from Super Bowl Sunday up until around Tuesday, Feb. 12.
To keep residents safe and able to travel if they needed to, crews from both cities were working around the clock to keep roads and sidewalks as clear as they could.
To prepare for the snow fall, Ross Junkin, operations and maintenance manager for the city of Covington, said he and the crews keep an eye on weather channels and different resources in order to see what the upcoming weather situations will be like.
He said they also prep their equipment to make sure everything is in working order, along with getting the supplies needed to keep roadways safe.
The city has deicer that Junkin said they laid on the roads before the snow even hit to try and get ahead of the game.
“We were out there hours before it actually started. We knew it was coming and we had put the deicer down before it came and then as it came and started accumulating on the roads we were able to take care of it as it started” Junkin said.
When crews were out there, Junkin said the first description of the weather condition was “This is crazy.”
The amount of snow that came down in such a short amount of time astounded workers and residents.
Junkin explained the city has snow and ice routes that crews follow. Those are the roads that get cleared first. The goal is to clear main roads and emergency routes first, and then once those are cleared crews can try to get side streets and back roads.
To look at the snow and ice routes for Covington, go covingtonwa.gov/cityofcovington/city_departments/publicworks/operationsandmaintenance/uploads/SNOW_ROUTES.pdf.
“We can’t necessarily get to the residential streets in front of people’s houses because it would take way too much time to do all of that and as far as the resources we have and personnel would not allow that until the end of the storm when we’re cleaning up,” Junkin explained.
Each shift that crews work are 12 hours, with two shifts.
Junkin said the first one runs from 10 a.m to 10 p.m. and then vice versa.
A normal shift for crew members is 6 a.m. to 3 p.m., Junkin said. The only time crews work 12 hour shifts is when there is a natural disaster or some sort of storm hits.
He said there are three crew members out at night running the three snow plows that the city has and then there are around four crew members working during the day.
During this 24 hour period, Junkin said crews were deicing, sanding and clearing roads — maintaining the city as best they could.
While out on the roads, Junkin said crews did run into some problems.
“We encountered a couple of breakdowns on our snow plows. One of our snowplows itself was broken and it was down for about five or six hours until we could get it back up and running,” he said.
Another problem that was troublesome was that during the first events of the snow, Junkin said the temperature dropped so low the sand that they have on hand froze.
He said the sand isn’t covered throughout the year, so it got rained on all fall and winter long. While it was on the truck ready to be put on the streets, it would be so cold that the sand would harden and was freezing in clumps.
Crew members had to spend hours breaking the sand down with tools to get the chunks out.
“Our team… They’re dedicated to these snow and ice events. They’re all hands on deck, keeping these streets open for our citizens and for the emergency vehicles that need to get to where they’re going. I would say this storm and how the guys responded, they did outstanding,” Junkin said.
He said the crew members were physically and mentally tired from all the work they had been doing and deserve a break.
As of Feb. 14, there were a couple of things left for the city to work on.
Junkin said they had some residential areas that had thicker slush in them, so that was their next priority after main roads were taken care of.
The other thing is having to deal with some of the freezing rain that occurred during the last winter event. Junkin said the rain broke a lot of branches and brought down a few trees, so crews now have to clear those areas.
“I’m really proud of my guys because they’ve spent the last 12 days working 12 hour days. A lot of them haven’t seen their families much in that time, so they’re dedicated in putting others ahead of themselves. So I’m proud of how they’ve taken this on,” Junkin said.
For the city of Maple Valley, it was kind of the same situation for crews and workers in the city.
According to Laura Philpot, Maple Valley City Manager, as soon as they saw snow in the forecast, city officials made sure all the snow equipment was in working order.
She said they got their deicer ready, which is a large tank that holds 10,000 gallons of deicer and that was full and ready to go by the time the first snow fall hit.
The city also had its sand stocked and ready to use.
“As soon as we heard some snow in the forecast — the Friday before Super Bowl — I met with the team and said ‘Be prepared.’ Make sure all the equipment is geared up and ready to go, and then we may be calling you in if snow comes,” Philpot said.
She explained Maple Valley also has snow routes that they follow and take on as its first priority.
She said the routes are predetermined based on traffic volume and grade hills.
“For example, I think it’s Maplewood or Maple Ridge, the one that goes way up the hill, that’s high priority because of the grade and number of people it serves. Obviously SR 169, SR 516 and Witte Road are a high priority. And Wax Road as well,” Philpot explained.
To see Maple Valley’s snow and ice map, go to maplevalleywa.gov/home/showdocument?id=21915.
According to Philpot, they were as prepared as they could be.
It was hard because there was only so much the city could do given the resources it has and Philpot said none of the early forecasts predicted the amount of snow that actually came.
Fortunately, she said the city received two trucks loads of salt from the state.
“I think Seattle DOT said it best, ‘We just can’t allocate the amount of resources it would require to handle this kind of storm on a regular basis when we only get one every 50 years or so,’” Philpot explained.
To keep the roads safe and clear with the supplies at hand, crews in the city took out the three snowplows they had and worked 12 hour shifts, just like Covington did.
Philpot said the crew members worked either from 12 p.m. to midnight, or midnight to 12 p.m.
She said they typically work eight hour days, 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
To increase the amount of workers on hand, Philpot said the city utilized workers not only from public works, but also three maintenance workers from parks and recreation.
The third parks worker had just started working for the city the same week the snow hit, so he was trained while working on the snowy roads, but he mostly helped clear out the Lake Wilderness Lodge parking lot and the Maple Valley Community Center parking lot, Philpot said.
The city has been running two maintenance workers from public works and one from parks on each shift, Philpot said.
The last couple of weeks have been “grueling” for the crew members, Philpot said. Most of them have small children, so working all night or all day can be hard since they had to workout child care and make sure their families were taken care and safe throughout the storm as well as the community.
“They’ve been rock stars. Their attitudes have been amazing. They’ve shown up on time, every single one. One of our employees had a medical emergency in his family and luckily, their family member was OK, so he made the choice to stay. He didn’t want to leave the crew short handed,” Philpot said.
One of the hardest parts of these snow days for crew members according to Philpot, was having to keep up with maintaining roads as well as other emergencies that occurred.
For example, at 2 a.m. during one of the snow days, a tree hit a live power line on Witte Road. Philpot said crews choose not to leave the down power line to make sure residents didn’t go near it.
She said they waited there until first responders got to the scene.
Philpot said the community has been supportive of the crews efforts. Well about 90 percent of them anyway.
She said they have had a couple of people express frustration because crews were not able to make it to their neighborhood to plow the streets.
Philpot said they feel bad they can’t help everyone all at once, but the city has to prioritize other streets and stick to the snow and ice map until those main roads are clear.
“We’re doing the best we can. For the most part, people have been really supportive,” she said. “This storm was so out of the ordinary, it was a good reminder that city resources can only go so far and so fast. It’s a good reminder that folks need to be prepared for winter events and emergencies of any kind.”
Local school districts
School districts in the area have been doing the best they can to keep students and staff safe during the snow storm too.
For instance, the Tahoma School District took the entire week of Feb. 11 to Feb. 15 off due to conditions.
Even though it had stopped snowing and main roads were clear, the district felt there were too many dangers on and around campuses to start school back up again.
Both the Tahoma and Kent School District must have snow make up days due to the amount of school students missed because of the storms.
According to a press release written by Keven Patterson, director of communications at the Tahoma School District, the emergency storm declaration by Gov. Jay Inslee has prompted discussion about if the district can apply for waivers from the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction to not have to make up some or all of the snow days.
“While school districts can apply for waivers, this is only part of the equation. The Basic Education Act also requires a minimum number of instructional hours, which cannot be waived. This means the solution to making up lost days may result in a combination of adding days at the end of the school year and adjusting other days during the year,” Patterson said in the press release.
He continued to say once the winter season is completely over and all weather impacts are gone, the district will be able to determine the full extent of adjustments needed.
According to Kent School District Superintendent Calvin Watts, make up days are determined through a bargaining process with the Kent Education Association.
“There are certain circumstances when school districts are able to apply for a waiver to the 180-day school year requirement. At this time, we do not know if a waiver is a possibility for Puget Sound area school districts,” Watts explained in a press release. “We may not know the answer to this question for several weeks and then we would still need to follow an application approval process.”