Chatfield crew ready to provide curb-to-curb service

GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/CHATFIELD NEWS Chatfield's new salt storage shed is behind the former cement plant that is now a city shop.
Gretchen Mensink Lovejoy

When the weather outside’s frightful, count on Brian and his curb-to-curb guys.

“Our main job is to clean the streets from curb to curb as best we can and in the safest way possible,” related Chatfield city maintenance supervisor Brian Burkholder, speaking of his and the city maintenance crew’s responsibility to keep Chatfield’s streets clear of snow day in and out and overnight, too, as the sky sends snow to the ground in showers and storms.

“By going curb to curb always, it helps the melting snow to get to the catch basins and prevent flooding of streets,” he explained. “Lighter snows, with warmer temps in the forecast, we may just do centers, or down and back. We monitor frost levels in the roadway to be prepared for cold water temps.”

With winter’s arrival come many extra jobs for Chatfield’s city crew workers. They typically start getting ready for winter right after fall sweeping is completed, which is around the first or second week of November. The timing all depends on the first snowfall, though, which this year was Nov. 13.

“We put on the wings and sanders on the trucks, and we start piling sand at the lot usually around the end of September or the first of October,” Burkholder said. “This year was a little sooner due to the quarry that we get it from, and the amount is depending on how much is left the previous year. I order typically around 150 yards, and I like to have around 200 yards total to get us through the winter. Two years ago, I had to find an additional 100 yards to get us through from a different quarry, as the one I used was closed.”

He had an extra challenge that came up this year because the city had to relocate its salt and sand storage. The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) asked the city to vacate its property on Winona Street, so the storage was moved to the city cement plant on Third Street. That meant the city had to purchase and put up a salt storage shed just in time for winter.

“Other than that, there have been no real improvements, really,” Burkholder said. “We traded in our Toolcat and broom for a new one, as it is on a rotation. We did a couple repairs on the front plow on our older one.”

Snow in the forecast may keep the city maintenance department’s employees on alert because they might have to plow streets throughout a storm. How they respond depends on whether it is a day snow or overnight snow.

“In day snow, we will go out with an inch or better, and we will plow and treat the hills and do the center, and then go curb to curb when it’s about to end,” Burkholder said. “If it snows into the evening, we will plow centers before the commuters get home, then start at 4 a.m. to complete curb to curb. We always do the hills just before school is dismissed.”

His crew learned the last few years from a plowing course that if sand or salt needs to be applied to the roadway, it is much more effective if the snow is removed first. That is why you see the local crew plowing more frequently.

Plowing comes with its own difficulties, with Burkholder pointing out the toughest being plowing around a lot of cars. It takes a bit longer and accidents can happen so much easier in those situations, he explained, plus workers have to go back the next day or sand and plow those areas again. Other difficulties include hitting manholes that are heaved up, and breaking blades and equipment, as well as keeping hills cleared and sanded, especially during freezing rain events, which are more common these days. They deal with those situations by hauling in sand earlier and bringing in some salt earlier, and having more cutting blades on hand due to breaking.

The MnDOT Highway 52 project carried out this past summer on what is also Chatfield’s Main Street hasn’t changed the plowing efforts much, and business owners and downtown residents are still responsible for shoveling sidewalks, Burkholder stated, but parking will likely become trickier with more snow encroaching on the streets. The downtown thoroughfare is narrower in a couple blocks, so his crew needs to clean snow off more often. The state plows and treats Highway 52 and 74. The city removes the snow when needed, and the state compensates the city for some costs for removal.

There is no parking on Main Street, Second and Third streets between Fillmore Street to Twiford Street from 2 until 5 a.m. during the winter months, which gives the Chatfield crew time to remove snow if needed. With a larger snowfall, it may run longer than 5 a.m. so snow removal, “no parking” signs will be placed on Twiford, Fillmore, Fourth Street, First Street and the west side of Fifth Street.

Blizzards such as last year’s Feb. 24 storm that buried most of southern Minnesota pose additional winter challenges for city crew workers plowing streets.

“We deal with them as they come. Having the bigger front-end loader with the pusher helps, just like making sure our large snowblower is ready. It is an old one and is needed in times like last year,” Burkholder said. “We had a couple of issues last year because no extra money is in the budget for snowfalls like that, as it was not typical from previous years. If we have a blizzard, we hope people are patient and we ask them not to push snow into the roadway after it has been cleared. And don’t travel if not necessary.”

He asked for residents’ assistance in making travel around snowplows less hazardous, keeping cars off the streets and sidewalks and fire hydrants free of snow for safety purposes.

“It helps a lot if drivers slow down. The plow drivers have a lot to pay attention to, and plows need to back up at intersections often. Also, plow trucks take a lot more to stop in road conditions and because of the weight, so stay well behind plow trucks or take a different route,” he said. “If it is going to snow, remove your vehicles. And clearing sidewalks and hydrants is helpful. It is the responsibility of the homeowners to clear the snow and ice from sidewalks on their property, having them cleared within 24 hours, and hydrants can be cleared at the same time. And please do not let your children build forts along the roadway. Drivers do not know if kids are in them when going by, and they could be injured or buried.”

In other maintenance matters, Burkholder and company have already had to do some serious digging to reach broken water mains, and he would like for that to be a fluke, unlike the work that had to be done a few years ago when mains kept breaking throughout the winter. There have already been three so far this year, which is more than normal.

“I’m not sure why, but it might have to do with all the moisture in the ground and the ground settling with frost going in and then out this year due to the unusual temps,” he said. “To keep your water main from freezing up, monitor the water from the tap from the lowest sink in the basement where the water comes into the house. Run water in a cup for five-plus minutes and use an indoor-outdoor thermometer. If it reaches 38 degrees, call City Hall. As of Jan. 2, the frost depth in the roadway is at 25 inches.”

There are still months of winter ahead, and that means that city crew members and Burkholder will come in from the chilly outdoors to the shop with cold hands and visions of warm, dry gloves and a snack. The maintenance supervisor remarked that hearing feedback makes quite a difference – as do a cookie or two.

“Hearing from residents is appreciated, and we do occasionally receive some goodies,” he said.