OLYMPIA - City officials said their new snow and ice removal plan worked over the snowy blast this week, but acknowledged that they weren't truly tested with the fury of a major event.
“Thankfully, it wasn’t a 24-inch snow event,” Public Works Director Michael Mucha said. “It was a couple of inches and that gave us the opportunity to respond and to try some new things.”
City leaders, mindful of the 2008 snow that crippled travel, laid out a new snow and ice plan this year. It calls for applying an anti-icing brine on streets before snow even begins on designated locations such as hills and bridges. When heavy snow is predicted, crews switch to 24-hour operations.
So crews began applying de-icer last Saturday and Sunday, before the major snow fell on Monday.
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The plan lays out in detail, down to the names of streets, which roads get cleared when. First are, arterial streets such as Harrison Avenue, Black Lake Boulevard and Martin Way. It also includes a list of hills and bridges.
Next to get treated are secondary routes — such as Mottman Road, Conger Avenue and Wiggins Road. It also identifies neighborhood routes, some of which now get treatment sooner. In the past, the city “usually would work the main routes to perfection,” and neighborhoods were plowed last. In this week’s snow, the city elected to move sooner into certain neighborhoods, such as Ken Lake on the city’s west side.
“That’s a pretty big change,” Mucha said.
The reason: the neighborhood has several hills situated around Ken Lake and spades of shade trees to shelter ice.
Lloyd Goodwin, a resident in the neighborhood, appreciated the change.
“Based on the prior experience, I didn’t expect to see anybody,” he said, “so ... it’s great I’m glad to see that they’re out and I’m glad to see that they did it.”
Downtown streets are plowed when the city expects a snow accumulation of 6 inches or more with an extended forecast calling for freezing conditions. That’s because downtown streets don’t see as much accumulation because of traffic and there’s no place to put the plowed snow that won’t block on-street parking, according to the city.
The city is also using its website, olympiawa.gov. Mucha said the city received significantly fewer phone calls because instant street updates are now added there.
“Good solid communication is always where it seems these types of issues break down,” he said. “What this (event) did for us is it helped us test out how we would communicate with the public and with each other.”
Again, he acknowledged the city wasn’t truly tested. The snow in 2008 brought more than a foot of snow over several days. To prepare for a bigger event, city leaders will conduct a drill in December.
During the height of the past snow, the city ran five snow removal vehicles on 12-hour shifts around the clock.
Asked if there was anything he would do differently, Mucha said he would keep the crews on 12-hour shifts longer to clear neighborhoods.
He thanked the public.
“We thought the citizens did a good job too, because part of emergencies like this is citizens making choices about how do they get to work,” he said. “Our qualitative observation was there were fewer cars on the road which allowed us to do our job better.”
City Manager Steve Hall gives “pretty high grades” to the storm response.
“I think our response is better,” he said. “Clearly this was not as big a storm as two years ago.”
Matt Batcheldor: 360-704-686 firstname.lastname@example.org