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Pendleton councilors plow through snow removal discussion

Antonio Sierra

East Oregonian

Published on February 14, 2018 12:01AM

Last changed on February 14, 2018 9:47PM

Forecasters may not see much accumulation from sporadic snowfall this week, but the Pendleton City Council took a look at the city’s snowstorm response nonetheless.

At a workshop Tuesday, Public Works Director Bob Patterson recapped a meeting he had with the rest of the public works staff on the city’s current snow removal practices and how they could be changed.

Among the council’s discussion is whether the city should start using a plow when it snows.

Patterson said the city currently responds to significant snowfall with two trucks that drop gravel on the road to provide traction for drivers.

The city does own a plow, Patterson said, but it’s 25 years old and only received 20 hours of use.

Patterson showed the council statistics from the National Weather Services’ Pendleton station that showed that, with a few exceptions, most winters have only a few days where it snows more than two inches, the accumulation that spurs most plows into action.

While it may be a popular sentiment with some citizens, Public Works Superintendent Jeff Brown told the council that more people complained the few times the city plowed the roads than when they don’t. Brown said residents complain during plows because the plow pushes snow onto their cars parked on the street, trapping the vehicles.

“Everybody thinks they want a plow until it happens,” he said.

One workaround to this problem would be to prohibit on-street parking in certain areas during the cold season.

Patterson said the public works department is interested in salting manholes to prevent the “iceberg formations” that form after snowstorms. The department could expand salt use to streets, but Patterson said salt is unpopular in some places it’s used because of the damage it causes to vehicle undercarriages.

While he deferred to the council on how the city should prioritize snow removal, he said it wasn’t a budget priority for the public works department over other concerns like street maintenance and repair.

Patterson said the council could go to ballot box to ask for snow removal funding, but members didn’t spend much time discussing the proposal.

Public works department employees said some of the problems might lie with residential driving habits, like driving with bald tires, no chains or with a two-wheel drive.

“If you’re running around with bald tires in the winter time, maybe your priorities aren’t straight,” Councilor Paul Chalmers said.

Chalmers said he personally chose to drive a pick-up truck with a four-wheel drive, although he admitted that some might consider that a luxury.

Chalmers asked if there was any consideration for an emergency bus voucher that people could use during winter storms.

When he was president of Blue Mountain Community College, Mayor John Turner said he used to see people walk up the hill to the college instead of driving during snowstorms, so he didn’t think Pendleton was big enough to need such a program.

Councilor Neil Brown said snow removal was one of the top issues constituents talk to him about. If not a fleet of plows, Brown said the city could have a plow or two and prioritize certain streets.

Councilor Scott Fairley said the last major snowstorm in December was a missed opportunity from the city to communicate to the public how it was dealing with the snow and why. Because of the lack of communication, Fairley said the city had lost some goodwill.

The debate could all be moot if longterm forecasts hold up. Patterson said forecasters anticipate Pendleton winters will have more rain and less snow in the future.


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