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Santa Fe’s snow-removal crews deal with fickle winters

Many trade hoes in May for blades in January

Cassidy’s Landscaping employee Lupe Estralle clears snow from the DeVargas Mall parking lot in Santa Fe on New Year’s Eve.  AE Snow Removal, shifts employees to snow removal from its partner company in construction, Insulite Skylights. “The other business is based on construction, so when it snows, the construction stops, and vice versa,” manager Erik Apodoca said. Enlarge photo

Clyde Mueller/ The Santa Fe New Mexican

Cassidy’s Landscaping employee Lupe Estralle clears snow from the DeVargas Mall parking lot in Santa Fe on New Year’s Eve. AE Snow Removal, shifts employees to snow removal from its partner company in construction, Insulite Skylights. “The other business is based on construction, so when it snows, the construction stops, and vice versa,” manager Erik Apodoca said.

SANTA FE (AP) – Little precipitation makes a dry season for snow-removal companies throughout the New Mexico’s capital, but most business owners rely on alternative services to get them through the winters.

Consider AE Snow Removal, which shifts employees to snow removal from its partner company in construction, Insulite Skylights.

“The other business is based on construction, so when it snows, the construction stops, and vice versa,” manager Erik Apodoca said.

He said that business has been decent this year in spite of the decreased snowfall.

That switch, however, requires more than just transferring personnel from a construction site to a truck. Apodoca said that different insurance, pay rates and other clerical concerns must also be undertaken.

And he added that the biggest concern isn’t on waiting for the snow, but finding people available to operate the trucks in 10- to 12-hour shifts at a moment’s notice. Apodoca added that he also has men who do hand-shoveling for sidewalks and similar areas inaccessible by machinery.

AE Snow Removal runs eight trucks with blades and salt graders. A blade costs $6,000 and a salt grader runs $5,000. Most of his business comes from contracts, which means businesses around the city can expect Apodoca’s crew to show up at the first signs of snow.

The crews work in twos, and usually start by 2 or 3 a.m. across the city. Apodoca said he does noncontract labor as well, but call-ins can expect a 30- to 45-minute wait before someone arrives.

Other companies such as Southwest Pavement and Maintenance and Solscapes have similar wait times for call-in services.

“I try to take care of contracted businesses,” Southwest’s Robert Martinez said. “We try to be loyal to our customers first.”

Martinez said that just because it snows doesn’t mean his plows go out. Often, he said, people will just let the snow melt, and customers generally won’t call until 2 inches or more accumulate. This season, he said, has been dry.

He added that he doesn’t go door-to-door seeking out jobs, and instead will let people reach out to him when his services are needed.

Martinez, though, is used to dry seasons as Southwest has been in business for 45 years. He added that he tries to save some funds during the summer in case of dry winters.

Martinez added that his truck has almost fallen down steep embankments while plowing, but that doesn’t deter him.

“It can be dangerous,” he said. “But hell, so can getting out of your bathtub.”

Solscapes owner Zandra Werenko said she has contracts as well, but that most people aren’t eager to sign on, especially given the sporadic weather in the past year. She does more plowing on the north side of town, she said.

Werenko offers similar plowing services, and she added that she specifically uses a salt that is less abrasive to plants and animals. It does cost more, but because it snows infrequently in Santa Fe, the costs level out.

She said she also supplements the dry season with seasonal plant care, such as hand-watering evergreens, and pest control, which also comes later in the year with dry winters.

And while business has been slow all around, Martinez said the potential for snowier months remains, though the whole season could be a dud.

“It’s hit-and-miss with this sort of thing,” he said.