Friday, November 10, 2006

Street Department feeling good about coming winter

Express Staff Writer

While the area's multitude of skiers pray for snow, the Ketchum Street Department is feeling pretty good about the hoped-for onslaught.

A two-person swing-shift crew has been added to the department, helping to ensure late-afternoon snow or slush will be scooped up before it freezes overnight.

Repairs to equipment that failed last winter mean all three snow blowers will be patrolling the streets. And the passage Tuesday of a bond vote will, perhaps by this winter or next, mean two new models will be roaming the streets.

With each staff addition and equipment upgrade, the department will be better able to deal with Mother Nature.

"We're able to step up another notch in our standard of service," Superintendent Brian Christiansen said Wednesday. "I hope to continue that service we've provided."

The staff addition was approved by the City Council during last summer's budget negotiations.

"Our crew size wasn't big enough," Christiansen said.

Another boon for the department is Tuesday's election results. Ketchum voters approved a $1.5 million bond that will pay for two snow blowers, dating from 1957 and 1985, a 1988 grader and a 1985 loader.

It could be a year, though, before any new equipment hits the streets.

The city has to go out for bids, then place orders.

"We'll get bid specs and decide what we want," Christiansen said. "There's different configurations we can get."

Orders can take up to seven months for delivery, meaning this winter Ketchum will likely have to use the old models.

Last winter, two broke down during a snowstorm, and the Street Department was left to struggle with one snow blower. The two have been fixed and will be put into operation as soon as the snow starts to fly.

In the meantime, the department is looking forward to their replacement.

"Hopefully, we'll be more efficient," Christiansen said. "We'll be dependable. We'll be able to run both blowers every night."

Christiansen said there are other benefits to acquiring new machines.

"There is no operator comfort," Christiansen said of the old models. "It's physically demanding. You have to slam them into gear. They're just made that way. That's how you have to do it. Your left leg is aching after a couple of hours. By the time your shift is done, you're physically whipped."

Operating newer models is like driving a car, he said.

"The benefit the city receives is (employees) can go longer shifts," Christiansen said. "It reduces operator fatigue and increases efficiency. Crew morale is up. It really adds up for the city as far as getting more out of them."

Wasted labor hours due to downtime when the equipment broke down were significant, he said.

"The main thing we're looking forward to is less breakdowns," he said. "The engineering has just improved so much."

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