Last year mild, this year wild?

City, county prepare for winter weather duties

By: Cortney Casey | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published December 11, 2012

Know about snow
In a snow emergency, city officials will notify residents via Sterling Heights TV (Comcast Channel 5 and WOW Channel 10) and Sterling Heights radio (1700-AM), as well as through the city’s website, email lists, Facebook page and Twitter account.

Vehicles must be removed from subdivision streets within two hours of the declaration to allow access for plows and emergency vehicles. Residents who fail to comply face fines of $75 the first time, $100 the second and $125 for subsequent offenses, along with fees associated with possible towing, which typically range from $80-$200, according to City Manager Mark Vanderpool.

Based on changes made a few years ago, code enforcement officers also can issue citations, in addition to police officers, he added.

Residents are responsible for removing snow from their sidewalks within 24 hours, following a “snow event.” Inspectors will leave notices for residents who do not do so; 24 hours after that, the city may deploy a contractor to handle the job, then bill the property owner.

According to Vanderpool, the cost — based on lineal footage — typically is $75-$100 for a single-family home, but is double for corner lots and often substantially more for commercial and industrial properties.

Who does what?
City and county crews split the responsibility for clearing Sterling Heights’ roadways.

The Road Commission of Macomb County handles 14 Mile, 18 Mile, Hayes, M-59, Metropolitan Parkway, Moravian, Mound, Schoenherr, Utica and Van Dyke.

The city takes care of the remainder, including half-mile roads and odd-numbered mile roads. Priority one roads include 15 Mile, 16 1/2 Mile, 17 Mile, 18 1/2 Mile, 19 Mile, 19 1/2 Mile, Amsterdam, Calka, Canal, Canterbury, Clinton River, Delco, Dobry, Dodge Park, Fairfield, Fox Hill Drive, Irving, Maple Lane, Merrill, Plumbrook, Riverland, Ryan, Saal, Stadler and Sterritt.

Main streets in a subdivision are classified as priority two, while all other roads — including courts and culs-de-sac — are priority three.

Last winter was a municipal official’s dream.

A lack of frigidity and precipitation meant less plowing, lower expenditures and fewer headaches for public works departments around the state, but Sterling Heights Department of Public Works Director Sal Conigliaro knows that a repeat performance is unlikely.

“I suspect that we’re not going to have another mild season like we had last year,” he said. “That was very uncommon. (But) hopefully we don’t have a harsh, harsh winter like some predict.”

Even before the temperatures begin to drop, the rumors begin.

“What I’ve been hearing — and I’ve been hearing it since late last summer — is that they’re predicting for a cold, wet season,” he said. “So that means snow, I guess; a lot of snow. But you never know. Nobody predicted last year that we’d have a mild winter.”

Only time will tell whether winter’s wrath will return with a vengeance from its hiatus, but regardless, city and county officials say they’re ready — perhaps even more so than usual, considering the leftover supplies from the uneventful last season.

Conigliaro said the city is sticking with the same process that’s served it well for many years. That entails dividing roadways into priority levels, with the major city-maintained arteries receiving attention first, followed by subdivision collector streets, and, finally, all other residential streets, including courts and culs-de-sac.

The city is responsible for clearing ice and snow from 60 miles of major roads and 289 miles of local roads and culs-de-sac, plus public facilities like the City Center campus, the police and fire stations, the 25 municipal parks and more.

According to city policy, the DPW usually only plows when snow accumulation reaches 3 inches; anything less is treated with salt on the arterial and secondary routes.

A DPW supervisor typically monitors weather reports to keep abreast on whether snow or sleet is headed toward southeastern Michigan. Based on the forecasts, necessary equipment and staffing levels are determined, and crews are dispatched strategically to alleviate road hazards at key times and locations.

Prior to an anticipated storm, crews apply salt brine on high-priority streets, pre-treating them in an attempt to prevent snow adhesion to the pavement and easing future plowing operations.

The city policy calls for workers to use salt sparingly, particularly in what Conigliaro called “high-volume traffic or dangerous conditions,” in situations where the temperature has dipped below freezing and ice has accumulated.

Conigliaro said Sterling Heights currently has 6,300 tons of salt in its storage barn, with the ability to acquire an additional 6,000.

“Our annual historical high salt usage is 11,000 tons,” he said, “so we feel confident that between our current supply and availability, we have a sufficient amount.”

Besides the salt savings, he said, last year’s limited plowing and brining meant less wear and tear on the DPW’s vehicle fleet.

“They really do take a beating during those heavy snow years,” he said.

There were no snow emergencies last winter — yet another anomaly. Conigliaro warned that the city’s policies for such incidents remain in place: All parked vehicles must be removed from city streets or face ticketing and/or towing.

The DPW aims to clear all city streets within 30-36 hours after the snowfall’s cessation during a declared emergency, and lingering cars can hamper those efforts.

Conigliaro also noted that city ordinance requires property owners to remove snow and ice from sidewalks within 24 hours following a snowfall’s conclusion. Failure to do so can result in the city sending crews to perform the work and billing the property owner for the cost.

The Macomb County Department of Roads is responsible for clearing county and state roads in Sterling Heights, such as even-numbered mile roads, Schoenherr, Mound, Van Dyke and M-59.

On the county end, “as far as salt goes, we’re fully stocked from last year because it was mild,” said Leo Ciavatta, maintenance superintendent for the Department of Roads. “We didn’t have to order much.”

A typical winter requires 45,000-48,000 tons of salt for the county, and “obviously, last year didn’t do that,” he said.

Down about 40 staffers from its maximum employment level, with many positions reduced through attrition, the county department will rely on retirees with experience, if additional crews are needed due to an extended severe storm, said Ciavatta.

Macomb County has at its disposal a fleet of Epoke salt-spreader combination units and some “wing spreaders,” plus several newer trucks, so “equipment-wise, we’re pretty good,” he added.

Ciavatta hadn’t heard any projections as of late November, “and most of them, they’re incorrect, anyways,” he said. “We’re just going to approach it like a regular, average winter. We’ll just see what happens.”