Mild weather allows town crews to catch up, but savings unclear
ADDISON COUNTY — A Christmas Eve almost as warm as the night of the Fourth of July, the temperatures even higher in some parts of Vermont than those in the subtropics. Streets, rooftops, branches, fields and hills barren and snowless until the last few days of December.
Most people have been enjoying the unseasonably balmy weather, even if it seemed a little strange. One group that really welcomed the late start to winter were those Vermonters responsible for Addison County roads.
With the late start to snowplowing, road crews have been able to work on maintenance tasks, such as brush trimming and removal, well into the normal winter months.
The delayed snow has also allowed the crews to better prepare for snowstorms, rather than experience the usual rush of completing summer projects in November or early December so they could start dealing with storms that typically hit much earlier in the season. It has given them more time to outfit trucks with plows, stockpile salt and sand, and distribute sand and salt bins near sidewalks around downtown.
According to Shoreham Road Commissioner Loren Wood, the long fall has permitted his workers to accomplish a lot of projects that they would otherwise not have had time for because they would have been clearing snow. For instance, they tore down an old town garage.
“The guys have kept busy,” Wood said. “They got some things done that they wanted to get done, that I wanted to see done. It’s a good feeling.”
Similarly, John Bull, the Ferrisburgh Highway Department road foreman, and his crew are thankful that they have been able to catch up on many tasks, such as construction projects and equipment maintenance.
“Our to-do list is usually about two years behind. We never lack for something to do,” he said.
In addition, the lack of snow has saved a significant amount in towns’ winter expenses. Middlebury’s winter overtime expenses this year are a little more than $1,000 to date, whereas they were well over $15,000 by this time last year, according to Town Manager Kathleen Ramsay. The town has also seen a reduction in spending on salt and sand.
Ramsay believes it is too early to determine whether this will have any remarkable effect on the municipal budget because there are still months of winter ahead. She expects that the town will experience its typical annual average of 20 snow events in this time and spend as much as it has in previous years on overtime and other expenses.
Bull says that Ferrisburgh appears to have saved money on winter overtime and resources because these expenses have been negligible so far, whereas by the end of 2014 his crew had already been out clearing snow multiple times. Yet he, too, notes that the numbers tend to even out by the end of the season.
“At this point of the winter, it looks pretty good from a budget standpoint,” he said. “But we never can tell. These El Niño years are hard to predict.”
With the heavy blanket of snow that winter storm Goliath threw over the county last week, the plow trucks have finally been spurred into action after hours of preparation.
“Everybody was having fun,” said Wood, recalling how the Shoreham road crew was putting on tire chains last Monday, the day before the storm, and getting ready for an early morning of plowing. “We’re doing a good job. We should be doing this kind of stuff by this time.”
Bull, who has done municipal snow removal for over 25 years, and oversaw the plow trucks all day Tuesday, claims that snowfall is a life-changing experience for those who work on the roads for a living.
“I’ve often compared it to having a new baby in the house, because you’re up at all hours of the night looking out the window to see if something’s going on,” he said. “You never know when you look out the window whether you can go back to bed for an hour or two, or whether you’re out the door, and then never know for sure when you’re going to get back home.”