Dan Hitchcock, the highway superintendent in Johnsburg, can tell how bad a winter it has been by the size of the sand pile at his highway department.
“My sand pile is the smallest I’ve seen it in about 10 years,” he said.
That’s because his highway crews have had plenty of opportunities to put sand on slippery roads in recent weeks, thanks to a spate of winter storms that included two nor’easters in six days.
The last pay period, Hitchcock said, his highway crews put in 430 hours of overtime to deal with bad weather, including last week’s snowstorm. That bumps the payroll up by about 80 percent for the period.
After two relatively easy winters, the winter of 2017-18 is proving to be a tough one for highway crews around the region.
A number of local highway superintendents and town leaders say their communities are going to have a hard time staying within snow removal budgets in light of recent storms.
“We are watching our pennies, I will tell you that,” said Glens Falls Public Works Superintendent Bob Schiavoni. “Hopefully this storm will be the last one.”
Argyle Supervisor Bob Henke, chairman of the Washington County Board of Supervisors, said a major factor driving costs this year has been the number of weekend and overnight storms, which generally require overtime pay for road crews.
He said municipalities generally budget halfway between a bad winter and a good winter, banking savings from the good winters for the bad ones. The 2018 budget could be in rough shape if next fall and early winter bring snow and ice, he added.
“Sometimes you eat the bear, sometimes the bear eats you,” Henke said. “This year, the bear is going to eat us a little.”
Warren County Assistant Public Works Superintendent Kevin Hajos said the county just took a salt delivery that was the last for which it had budgeted this winter. The supply should last the rest of this season, he said.
The biggest issue has been the volume of smaller storms that has required roads to be treated, Hajos said. But he said it appears the county would not exceed its road crew overtime budget.
Horicon Supervisor Matt Simpson said his town has had to spend significantly more on snow removal this winter than the last two, which were relatively tame.
“We are definitely up in terms of our use of overtime,” he said.
Snowy winters create other unseen costs for highway departments, according to Hitchcock.
With the many miles of narrow, winding roads in Horicon, all of the trucks run with chains on the wheels in bad weather. The trucks take a beating from the vibrations caused by the chains.
“Chains take an awful toll on the equipment,” he said.
Hajos and others in the road-clearing business were heartened to learn Wednesday that the storm initially forecast to bring up to 20 inches of snow for parts of the region had taken a turn out to sea, resulting in a forecast that called for lesser accumulations.
Albany-based National Weather Service meteorologist Dan Thompson said the change in the storm’s track should limit the Glens Falls area to an additional 6 to 8 inches of snow by early Thursday.
“The storm shifted eastward a little bit, so we aren’t expecting as much as we thought,” he said.
While the weekend will be cool and quiet weather-wise, there is another possible nor’easter looming for late Sunday and early Monday, although Thompson said it was too early to predict.
The forecast for more snow prompted Glens Falls Mayor Dan Hall to declare a snow emergency that will be in effect from 6 p.m. Wednesday through 9 a.m. Thursday to allow city Department of Public Works crews time to clear city streets. During a snow emergency, all on-street parking is banned.