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City crews manage resources, monitor winter weather to provide public safety

Ready to plow Farmington’s 12 city snow routes and 85 miles of streets, this new state-of-the-art snowplow is designed with an underbelly blade that can scrape all the way to the roadway. Kara Hildreth / Contributor1 / 2
City of Farmington Public Works crews are ready to tackle any snowstorm. Leadership includes Todd Reiten, director of municipal services, and Katy Gehler, city engineer and director of public works. Kara Hildreth / Contributor2 / 2

Last week's weather serves as a testament to the snowfall that annually coats roadways, from heavy wet snow to icy sleet. This season, the City of Farmington's public works teams are ready to tackle any weather Old Man Winter can dish up.

Underbelly blade

A new state-of-the-art snowplow will be on the roads, engineered with an underbelly blade designed to scrape closer to the pavement.

"With this underbelly blade on the truck, we can put 500 pounds of pressure down on the road and the truck is holding that down," said Todd Reiten, director of municipal services. "The cool thing about this snowplow truck is that there is an underbelly snow removal blade that scrapes the road and this will help because we have been getting a lot of complaints about not getting down to the road."

The new snowplow cost $200,000 and replaces an old city snowplow that had seen better days. The public works investment was paid from a utility fund. The expenditure was planned to be a part of the 2020 Capital Plan, but was moved ahead because the former snowplow truck could not pass state inspection.

"It has a lot more horsepower than the one we got rid of," said Reiten. "That was a 1990 ... and it could not pass the DOT (Minnesota Department of Transportation) inspection since the frame was cracked and it was 28 years old."

A second new snowplow will arrive in February and replace a circa 1994 city public works snowplow.

"These trucks don't just plow the streets in the winter, although their primary focus is plowing the streets," said Katy Gehler, city engineer and director of public works. "They also go out if there is a water main break, they are used to assist with sewer issues and in the summer with any maintenance work across all the utilities."

Public works team

A team of eight employees within public works are ready to tackle any kind of snowfall and many times head out as early as 3 a.m.

Reiten's team deploys a fleet of seven heavy trucks, snowplows, front-end loaders and skidsteer trucks to clean 85 miles of city roads. This includes 12 city routes and 92 neighborhood cul-de-sacs.

Each year, the public works staff reviews snow routes although not a lot has been added in the past 10 years. The new Regetta Fields neighborhood being built by the high school off Flagstaff Avenue and Highway 50 offers a new snowplow route, Reiten said.

Public works communicates internally to strategize when and how often to send snowplows out during a snowstorm and its aftermath.

"We have certain areas of town we send them back out and salt the roads, and if it turns into slush we may have to go back out to deal with the slush when it gets warmed up again," Reiten said.

Resident communications

During a storm and afterwards, city staff work to communicate with residents to provide information about when road conditions are safe and drivable.

"Communications has taken on a different social media strategy to get ahead of each significant snowstorm," said Lauren Siebenaler, communications specialist for the City of Farmington.

"We're letting residents know as far in advance as we can what kind of snowfall is predicted so they can map out travel plans, stay safe and stay informed on what our plowing game plan is."

Priority routes

"We want to focus on priority routes to provide for public safety for police, fire and ambulances," Reiten said. "Given our resources and staff sizes we do not want to have multiple crews to send out so at first they focus on priority routes."

Snow removal for the main thoroughfare of Pilot Knob Road, County Road 50, Denmark Avenue and Ash Street are all managed by the county. The city will usually plow if there are at least 2 inches of snow but it varies if the weather is cold and there are icy road conditions.

"If we have 6 inches or more of snow, we will make a pass on priority routes," Reiten said.

After city crews have made one pass to remove snow on priority routes, Reiten said they will then send out snowplows to tackle the curb-to-curb snow removal.

Gehler asks residents to embrace an understanding and be flexible to know the city is managing and monitoring timing of each snowstorm to provide the best public safety.

"People will call and say you did not finish my road, but that is basically our policy right now," Reiten said.

"Ideally we like to go out when there is not a lot of traffic, given the visibility with the plows and that is why we go out early in the morning," Gehler said.

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