City spends $75k on storm work

The recent series of snow storms brought over a foot of snow to Mercer Island. - Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter
The recent series of snow storms brought over a foot of snow to Mercer Island.
— image credit: Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter

City spends $75k on storm work

The city of Mercer Island spent approximately $75,000 dealing with and cleaning up last month’s snow storm, $32,000 of which went toward overtime wages and benefits for maintenance crews. City maintenance director Glen Boettcher presented these numbers at last Monday’s City Council meeting. The report focused on facts, figures and misconceptions surrounding the 2008 snowstorm.

“Certainly, it was a once-every-20-year event in terms of severity and duration,” Boettcher said about the 10-day storm. “I’m going to take you a little bit deeper into the details of what came.”

Once the first storm struck Mercer Island on Dec. 17, city employees worked around the clock, logging in 530 hours over five days, according to Boettcher. Most of this effort went toward Island roads.

“The bread and butter in dealing with snow and ice is applying sand,” Boettcher said. “We were also using salt from the start of our response sparingly on Island hills.”

In total, maintenance crews applied 140 yards of treated sand provided by the Washington State Department of Transportation [WSDOT] and 15 yards of salt, according to the report. Four plowing and sanding trucks covered 25 miles of arterials and 50 miles of neighborhood streets.

“If we were to survey all the cities in our area we’d find that we were as robust in terms of equipment as anyone,” Boettcher pointed out.

Island trucks consumed nearly 1,600 gallons of fuel and crews wore out 12 sets of tire chains. Repairs were needed every two to three hours.

Boettcher emphasized that, despite a handful of complaints by residents, city employees did everything they could to cope with the weather conditions.

“One of our main road guys said he did East Mercer way 50 to 60 times, at least. We were literally working the same loops just to keep up with the snow,” he said.

Some complaints, Boettcher added, were based on misconceptions.

Despite what people may think, a plowing/sanding truck cannot navigate any hill, the maintenance director pointed out.

“Trucks couldn’t get to steep, shaded streets until the ice softened up. But we certainly had people trying,” he said, adding that four trucks had to be pulled out of ditches.

Other rumors swirled around delayed garbage collection, especially after the Christmas holiday.

“Islanders hung in there pretty well through the first days. Where people really started to struggle was on Dec. 26. After Christmas, people really wanted it to be over,” he said.

Although some citizens complained that Allied Waste did not show up at Island Crest Park, as announced on Dec. 26, to collect accumulated garbage, Boettcher asserted that “to the best of my knowledge, they did show up.”

In fact, the company provided drop-off service for five days before resuming normal collection routes, he said.

On top of costs already incurred, sand clean-up will cost the city $22,000, with an additional $8,000 to dispose of the mixture.

Police Officer Jennifer Franklin also presented a short report last Monday; hers focusing on the City Emergency Operations (EOC) center that opened at 5 p.m. on Dec. 20.

According to Franklin, the EOC, which opened due to forecasts of high winds and hazardous weather conditions, ran smoothly despite the fact that it was little needed. The center closed early the next morning at 4 a.m. after wind warnings proved unsubstantiated.

Operation of the center provided the city with insight on what went well and what could be improved. Emergency communication via the city Web site and Mercer Island High School radio station — still an experimental effort — went smoothly, according to Franklin.

“Volunteers Jason King and Joy Johnston really worked hard with the school district to get the public service announcements aired hourly over the high school radio station,” she said. “It worked very well.”

The level of city staff involved with the EOC was also impressive. A total of 38 staff members, 20 of which were on duty fire fighters and police, helped operate the center.

“Our volunteers did quite a bit of work for us, in terms of helping set up the shelter,” Franklin said.

The report also focused on areas of improvement.

“We’re working on streamlining our phones so we can take all calls into our phone bank and avoid messages left on voice mail,” Franklin said.

The officer also proposed distributing signs around the Island notifying citizens of the EOC and taking more effort to identify and check on vulnerable residents in the community.

“We did a city-wide survey earlier this year to help identify the vulnerability needs of our citizens, but we still want to go further in this effort,” Franklin said.

After Franklin and Boettcher presented their PowerPoint presentations, the room was opened up for council discussion.

Councilmember Mike Grady brought up the issue of sledding safety, as there was a Dec. 25 incident where a six-year-old sledded into a parked snow plow on S.E. 68th Street. Councilmembers briefly discussed the option of designating certain hills for sledding during snowy weather. These streets would be blocked from traffic to keep children from hitting cars or snow plows. The council decided to discuss this proposal further at the next Public Safety Subcommittee meeting.

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