July 31, 2014

Elyria
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Plow drivers weather the storm

LORAIN — Snow plowing can be a dead-end job.

Like on Wednesday evening when Ben Sanborn spent about 30 minutes plowing on Haborview Boulevard off Leavitt Road and West Erie Avenue. The street has two dead ends, which meant a lot of stopping and starting and three-point turns.

“Sometimes it gets to be like an eight-point turn,” Sanborn said after slowly turning around.

Sanborn was one of about 15 drivers who salted and plowed between 3 a.m. and 7 p.m. Wednesday. The storm was relatively tame for Lorain County, with snowfall and winds not as heavy as predicted. But it was the most substantial storm for Sanborn, who was hired last December. The first winter that he and several other new hires worked for the city was unusually mild.

“They’re going to get tested this year,” said Sanborn’s boss, Hal Kendrick, Lorain’s public property manager, who was hired in October.

While Wednesday’s storm was Sanborn’s biggest, it was old hat for Chuck Stanley, Streets Department assistant superintendent. Stanley has plowed in countless storms since being hired in 1987 and is one of two department workers retiring this week, shrinking the department to 15.

Stanley said patience is the most important quality a plow driver can have.

“That’s when you get in an accident is when you get in a hurry,” said Stanley, who retires today.

Patience is the Fifth Commandment of “The 10 Commandments for Snow Fighters,” a tongue-in-cheek list published by The Ohio Local Technical Assistance Program, which works with Ohio’s local governments.

“Thou shalt contain thy temper even though cars and trucks pass thee on both sides and tailgate thee too close for comfort. Anger only multiplies thy prospects of coming to grief by accident,” the commandment reads.

Sanborn said drivers frequently drive around him because he only drives between 15 and 20 mph so as not to risk damaging the plow on his dump truck. He said his closest call Wednesday came when a fishtailing pickup narrowly avoided him at Broadway and West Erie Avenue. Driving slow is also important on side streets to avoid parked cars of drivers who in some cases have disregarded Lorain’s ban on parking cars in the street during snowfalls of two inches or more.

Workers get two hours of break time during their 16-hour shift, but Sanborn said he cut his breaks short Wednesday to stay on the road. Snow and salt take their toll on trucks, causing breakdowns and meaning more plowing for other drivers. In the city garage at West 35th Street and Elyria Avenue on Wednesday afternoon, workers repaired two dump trucks that broke down.

Making the call

Around 9:30 p.m. Tuesday after closely monitoring forecasts, Mayor Chase Ritenauer and Safety/Service Director Robert Fowler told Kendrick to bring workers in four hours early.

Drivers, who will be replaced by other city employees with CDL licenses for the 7 p.m. to 3 a.m. shift, began by salting before the snow began falling. Kendrick said salting while snow is heavily falling is ineffective and wastes salt.

“That’s why we try to pre-treat, to get some salt in the mix before the big storm hits,” he said.

Side streets aren’t salted because it is too expensive, but salt is used around stop signs and stop lights.

“We’re trying to make things safe and avoid accidents,” Kendrick said.

There are 12 plowing routes in Lorain with main roads and secondary streets plowed first, followed by side streets. Some routes have two and three drivers, and the department hopes to hire a few more employees.

Stanley said inexperienced drivers sometimes spend too much time on main roads at the expense of side streets.

“It does the people no good if they can get from point to point, but they can’t get down the side streets,” he said.

Besides believing their streets are neglected by plows, residents of side streets often complain of their driveways getting blocked with snow. Sanborn said that often can’t be avoided.

“At the end of the day after 16 hours, I’ve still got to dig out my driveway that one of my co-workers plowed in,” he said.

Mark Bento, of 2322 Harborview Blvd., a resident since 1993, said getting plowed in was a problem in past years but not the last two.

“This guy’s doing a real good job,” Bento said as he watched Sanford work. “I’m very happy with the job he’s doing.”

Salted away

Like many Northeastern Ohio cities, Lorain was able to stockpile salt due to last season’s mild winter.

  • Salt costs Lorain taxpayers about $35 per ton.
  • Dump trucks carry about six tons of salt and use 20 to 30 tons per route, with trucks refilling about every two hours.
  • About 200 tons of salt are used in a typical storm.
  • Between salt and fuel costs, about $25,000 is spent for a typical storm.

Contact Evan Goodenow at 329-7129 or egoodenow@chroniclet.com.