Oh no, more snow Amherst and Milford public works departments try to keep the roads clear

If the record snowstorms we’ve been having are a minor headache for most people, they are a major headache for the people expected to keep local roads clear.

This is Bruce Berry’s 14th year as Amherst Department of Public Works director, and it has probably been his most challenging.

And it doesn’t help that the department is one dump truck short, because one was retired and they are waiting for its replacement. And another truck rolled over. Careful driving prevented serious damage, said Berry in a phone interview, but the vehicle was out of commission for one of the storms.

So far that weekend they made do by taking out of retirement a 1986 grading vehicle that has a front plow and renting a backhoe from Chappell Tractor.

Keeping the Amherst village area clear is a particular problem, because of its tight network of roads. All the piled up snow affects visibility. At some point, Berry said, they will have to pick up and cart away the snow which is in the center of town.

A lot of sand has to be used on the roads and sidewalks, but village homeowners don’t want sand in their front yards, although it’s unavoidable, he said.

Berry’s department has been working around the clock to keep roads passable and to try to widen them, and roads aren’t the only problem.

Some of the town buildings – including the library and the central fire station, have flat roofs and they have to be checked to make sure they aren’t carrying a dangerous snow load. Other buildings have significant ice dam build up.

Berry also has to watch that his men – 11 full-time workers and another five or so who just work the storms – are not working too long without rest.

And then there is the question of what to do with all the snow.

“The days of dumping it in the river are gone,” said Berry. There is room for snow storage near the DPW building “it’s just a matter of getting to it.”

Complaints from homeowners pile up along with the snow.

With 6-foot snowbanks it’s impossible to see people’s fences, and sometimes the weight of the plowed snow pushes them over. “You try to memorize where they are,” Berry said.

Sometimes homeowners dig out around their mailboxes, and sometimes they don’t, he said, and some people call the town to say the trucks have not plowed close enough to their mailbox.

In Milford life hasn’t been easier.

There have been equipment breakdowns and a sidewalk plow hit a car and there have been a lot of equipment breakdowns, said DPW Director Rick Riendeau.

For two weeks this month Milford had no salt delivered from the supplier, Granite State Minerals in Portsmouth, so there was more sand in the mix than usual. Salt is used to try to keep the main roads clear and a mix of salt and sand on the side roads.

But “below 18 degrees nothing works,” Riendeau said, though friction of traffic on the major thoroughfares helps keep them relatively free of snow and ice.

The department can’t let snow pile up in the Oval area so they truck it to the Brox property, which by now is “getting pretty full,” Riendeau said.

Overtime for his snow team of about 15 workers has put a big dent in his budget.

“It’s got to be done. I’ll just have to take it from somewhere else,” he said. As long as we don’t overspend the bottom line.”

More concerning is workers’ fatigue. Riendeau tries to stagger their hours and send them home when he can. As long as it’s not snowing really heavily he can do that.

“It’s been a long couple of weeks,” he said.

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100, ext. 304, or kcleveland@cabinet.com.