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Oh, snow!

Massive snowfalls cause OT budgets to double, create super conditions for winter sports

Posted: January 31, 2012 - 1:02am
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Hyla Wright watches as friends, harbor personnel and a dive company pump water out of and right her father's boathouse in Aurora Harbor on Monday. Too much snow on the roof was thought to be the cause of the accident. Nobody is currently living onboard the vessel.  Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Hyla Wright watches as friends, harbor personnel and a dive company pump water out of and right her father's boathouse in Aurora Harbor on Monday. Too much snow on the roof was thought to be the cause of the accident. Nobody is currently living onboard the vessel.

While Juneau is being dumped on by piles upon piles of snow, the city's Public Works Department is busy trying to keep up.

The department's already spent $38,000 in overtime on snow plowing and removal, said director Kirk Duncan. Last year it only spent $16,000.

A rumor that the department has spent its overtime budget already has been refuted by Duncan.

"No, exactly the opposite," Duncan said. "We said ‘just turn it loose, do as much overtime as you need.’"

As snow in Juneau keeps falling — 35.2 inches since Jan. 20, according to the National Weather Service — the city is having to kick up its efforts just to try and keep up. Duncan said they have called in more independent contractors that are loading and hauling snow.

"Basically we can't get rid of snow when it's snowing," Duncan said. "We can only plow it. We're actually upping our snow removal budget to include contracts. Our guys are working 24 hours a day, seven days a week."
Duncan said there are teams working 12-hour shifts to handle the growing snow. While he has authorized the department to spend as much overtime as needed to handle the snowfall, Duncan said they also are not spending money foolishly.

This weekend crews worked on hauling snow out of downtown. Duncan said over the next couple days the cul-de-sacs in the Mendenhall Valley will be worked on, as well as streets above the Capitol before they can work on Starr Hill. He said it would be about two days before they can get to the "flats."

The department issued a notice again on Monday of streets that will have snow haul-out.

"Streets will be posted with yellow “NO PARKING” signs," it reads. "Please remove your vehicles from these streets and avoid driving down them while snow removal operations are commencing. It is very dangerous for vehicles trying to pass snow removal equipment. Any vehicles left in the street will be ticketed and towed to the Yacht Club parking lot."

The following streets were expected to be cleared beginning Monday night at 8 p.m. until completion: Main Street from Fourth Street to Sixth Street; Fifth Street from Main Street to East Street; Sixth Street from Main Street to East Street; Harris Street from Sixth Street to Fourth Street; Gold Street from Sixth Street to Fourth Street; North Franklin Street from Sixth Street to Fourth Street; East Street from Sixth Street to Fourth Street.

Duncan said it was supposed to start raining Monday, but instead it continued to snow.

Sunday set a record for snowfall, with 6.3 inches blanketing the capital city, according to the NWS. That exceeded the record of 6 inches for a Jan. 29, which fell in 1954. By Monday morning, 45.1 inches of powder had fallen in Juneau in January, the service stated. That’s well above the average of 25.8 inches, but below the 2009 record of 75 inches

"As long as this keeps doing this we're going to have to keep plowing," Duncan said.

Duncan didn't have figures yet into how much the large snowfall has cost the street department this year, but said the overtime figures are pretty telling since they're already about doubled from last year.

As one city department struggles to keep pace with the large snowfall, another is relishing it. Eaglecrest Ski Area was ranked No. 1 for snow pack at resorts in the U.S. on Jan. 6. In the last two days, over half a foot fell on its base, most of that in the last 24 hours. The top has received 7.5 inches of snow since Saturday. The resort currently has 151 inches of snow at the top, according to Eaglecrest’s website.

“We definitely have more snow at the Day Lodge than we normally have at the end of January,” said Jeffra Clough director of sales and marketing and the Snowsports School for Eaglecrest. “The snow conditions have been fantastic and we love it.”

Clough said the snow does require extra work for Eaglecrest staff.

“The parking lot has been getting plowed daily,” Clough said.

Eaglecrest staff have worked to remove snow from the deck and roofs of the Day Lodge as well as keeping the entry ways free off snow and ice, Clough said.

“The groomers remove snow from under the lift lines of the chairlifts to insure we have adequate clearance,” Clough said. “And snow continually needs to be removed from loading and unloading areas.”

Fence lines and signs around the mountain need to constantly be cleaned of snow and ice, Clough said.

While Eaglecrest is closed today, the staff will remove snow from the upper and lower parking lots.

“Starting at 6 a.m., the upper and lower parking lots closest to the Day Lodge will be closed so that our staff can safely remove the snow in these lots,” Clough said.

Another building in the city also received some snow removal work, as the stacking of Monday’s snow on top of what had already fallen caused a small scare at the Department of Public Safety Building downtown.

Just before lunchtime, a person in the building heard “a noise they were concerned about,” said Vern Jones, chief procurement officer for the Department of Administration.

Occupants of the building’s second story were asked to leave their offices around noon Monday, as a structural engineer sent by the Department of Administration checked out the facility, Jones said. That engineer determined the weight of the snow on the building’s rooftop caused the roof’s main beam to “flex a bit,” Jones said. However, he added, that beam is designed to flex, and the bending was within the beam’s tolerance.

Workers were allowed back onto the second floor at about 1:30 p.m., as a crew went to the roof to shovel snow from it, Jones said. He added this was the first time he could remember snow weight even being a concern in 12 years of the Department of Administration’s management of the building.

A snow-related outage kept 89 Alaska Electric Light & Power customers along Thane Road without power for about three hours Monday, a spokeswoman for the utility stated in an email. Snow weighed down tree limbs and forced them to lean into lines, said Debbie Ferreira, vice president for consumer affairs for AEL&P. The outage was the fourth at least partly caused by heavy snow in January, she said.

The NWS is predicting rain Tuesday, with a snow level ranging from 700-1,200 feet above sea level, a high of 36 and a low of 33. Rain should replace snow Wednesday and Thursday, but the white stuff is likely to return Friday, according to the service.

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