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After early, heavy snowfall, crews in Grand Forks continue to catch up on snow removal

Public Works Streets Supervisor Matt Aarvig said the storms that hit the city starting in November created challenges for the snow removal process.

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Grand Forks city crews clear snow on South 19th Street on Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2023.
Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald
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GRAND FORKS – With an early, heavy snowfall starting off the winter season, snow removal crews in the city are starting to catch up.

Public Works Streets Supervisor Matt Aarvig said the storms that hit the city starting in November created challenges for the snow removal process.

“The biggest challenge this year is we’ve had three relatively large snow events earlier in the season,” Aarvig said. “Last year, it started later. We didn’t really start until into January, when it really got rough.”

The first snow event of the season came the second week of November as Blizzard Alexandra made its way through Grand Forks. Other notable storms hit the region in December. Blizzard Barry , which rolled through the region late last month, brought high winds. To date, Grand Forks has received 39.2 inches of snow.

The amount of snow obviously impacts snow removal efforts, but Aarvig said temperatures play a part, too.

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“The big temperature extreme on the last one really hurt us,” he said. “At the start of that event, it was freezing rain so we got that ice layer underneath and then it was warm, wet heavy snow. It went right from there to a week of sub-zero temperatures, which really made it a challenge to get it off.”

In addition to the early snow, another challenge exists: equipment breakdowns.

“It's taken us a lot longer to do some of the things that we typically can get done in a couple of weeks,” Sharon Lipsh, the city's public works director, said.

Aarvig said the Public Works Department is facing staffing shortages for mechanics. The good news is that the department is fully staffed at 34 full-time, year-round equipment operators. They remove snow in the winter months.

Last year, the total amount allocated to snow removal was $2,132,556.26. That includes wages, overtime, employment costs, cutting edges for equipment, ice-control measures like salt and sand, winter leases of equipment and fuel. The budget figures hew to the calendar year and not to each winter season.

Of that, $162,467 went toward winter leases for equipment, $231,589 was spent on salt and sand and $54,585 was spent on cutting edges.

Fuel is used by the Public Works Department on a year-round basis, but 66% was allocated to snow removal purposes. That came in at $313,493.

This year, $2,125,231 is budgeted for snow removal, including $160,000 for salt and sand, $36,352 for cutting edges and $292,200 for fuel. Lipsh figures the numbers will be higher.

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Because of the early snowfall, the North Dakota Legislature is considering financial aid to local governments to help cover snow removal expenses. Senate Bill 2183 was introduced on Jan. 10.

If the bill passes, a tribal government, county, city or township can apply to the Department of Emergency Services for reimbursement of up to 60% of snow removal costs incurred from Oct. 1, 2022, through Dec. 31, 2022, which exceeded 200% of the average snow removal cost for the three-month period of October through December from 2017 to 2021.

Here in northern North Dakota, the winter is far from over. Aarvig said it’s hard to predict how much snow might still come, though the amount of snow and timing of each snowstorm does affect how quickly crews are able to work.

“After a, I would say, four- to six-inch snow event, it takes us about three weeks to get through all that work and be ready for the next one,” he said. “If you get one and then you get a break, we’re just fine. If you get one after another ... then we just really get backed up.”

Related Topics: CITY OF GRAND FORKS
Meghan Arbegast grew up in Security-Widefield, Colorado. She earned a Bachelor of Science in Journalism from North Dakota State University in Fargo, in 2021.

Arbegast wrote for The Spectrum, NDSU's student newspaper, for three years and was Head News Editor for two years. She was an intern with University Relations her last two semesters of college.

Arbegast covers news pertaining to the city of Grand Forks/East Grand Forks including city hall coverage.

Readers can reach Arbegast at 701-780-1267 or MArbegast@gfherald.com.

Pronouns: She/Her
Languages: English
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