EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Merrimack Valley

February 12, 2013

As snow banks come down, the bill goes up

The non-stop snow plowing operations in cities and towns across the Merrimack Valley may have stopped on Sunday, but that didn’t give public works crews any time to rest.

All day yesterday and last night crews continued working to clear snow away from sidewalks, bus stops, street corners and fire hydrants — as an icy mix continued to fall throughout the day.

With area schools scheduled to reopen today after a four-day weekend, public works chiefs and highway departments were focused on making sure streets and sidewalks were safe for children and staff alike.

“The widening of roads will continue for the next day or two,” said Chris Cronin, acting public works director for Andover. “The sidewalks need to be plowed. We are going as fast as we can, and we are using all the equipment we’ve got, but it’s very, very slow going.”

The problem, he said, is that as they worked to get the snow off town streets, plow operators piled street corners higher and higher with mounds of snow. The sidewalk plows, meanwhile, are unable to break through that heavy, compacted snow. Instead, he said, the town has to send in backhoes and front-end loaders to knock down the street corners to expose the sidewalks.

“The problem isn’t the 20 inches of snow,” he said. “It’s the corners. It’s heavy and thick and our equipment has a problem going through it.”

Meanwhile, the town continues widening streets, using those same backhoes and loaders, while also clearing downtown parking areas so that local businesses can reopen and customers can return to shopping.

“This wasn’t the worst storm I’ve seen, but it’s definitely in the top three,” he said. “The extreme part is the cleanup afterwards.”

He estimated that the town has already spent about $500,000 and may spend another $100,000 on clean-up operations over the next day or two. The storm may clean out nearly half the town’s $1.25 million snow removal budget for this year, he said. “It’s a big hit,” he added.

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