With winter weather finally arriving in Durango, some residents may be wondering why they’re having to dig out of a mountain of snow caused by the city’s snowplows.
The answer, quite simply, is there’s nowhere else to put it.
“We get a lot of phone calls, a lot are very nice and polite, but some residents can be very angry,” said Mike Somsen, street superintendent. “They’re tired of shoveling snow and the plows bury them in, and I don’t blame them.”
The city of Durango has seven plow routes throughout town, and each route has two drivers assigned to it. Each driver works 12-hour shifts in an effort to maintain 24-hour operations during a storm.
“As soon as it starts snowing, the plows start coming out,” Somsen said. “We try to be proactive.”
In a 24-hour period, each plow makes about four passes on a given area. Because of a lack of space at the onset of a storm, plows run down the center of the road and push the snow to the side of street.
On subsequent passes, plows will push the snow even farther to the edges of the street to open more of the road.
As a result, huge mounds of snow are formed on the edges of the street, requiring strong shoveling skills. And if a resident happened to previously dig out, more often than not, the plows send them back to square one.
“That’s where a lot of residents get upset,” Somsen said. “But we don’t have any choice other than to pile the berm right up against those cars. That’s the reality.”
So what is a resident to do to avoid heavy lifting?
Somsen said the best approach would be to park cars in driveways and wait out the storm, but if that’s not an option, people can leave buried cars on the side of residential streets until after the storm passes, and then dig out.
Tom Sluis, spokesman for the city of Durango, said cars are required to move from designated snow routes or face a tow/ticket if 2 or more inches fall, but in most of town, the city hopes for a “sense of cooperation.”
“It’s a challenge to move a bunch of snow every which way,” he said.
For those who have to drive somewhere, it’s likely the spot will be reburied and require another dig-out – and, well, that’s the reality of mountain living.
The city of Durango has identified priority areas where more resources are directed, mostly highly trafficked roads, such as Main Avenue, College Drive, East Eighth Avenue, 32nd Street and Florida Road.
After a storm passes, the plow crews haul snow to a dump site at the Tech Center, starting in downtown Durango and working outward to streets like East Eighth Avenue and Florida Road.
The city of Durango is improving its messaging about plowing operations and whether residents should move cars, which can be found on the city’s website and social media pages, Sluis said.
“That’s something we’ve been focusing on,” he said.
Sluis said crews have been known to go door-to-door for people who may not be engaged on social media or hyperconnected to the internet.
La Plata County’s snowplow crews, too, prioritize the most heavily trafficked routes, such as Florida Road (County Road 240), Wildcat Canyon Road (County Road 141) and county roads 501, 210 and 310/318. For any given storm, crews will drive more than 1,500 miles to hit every county road.
“Our general priority is to get main roadways clear,” said county spokeswoman Megan Graham. “But we eventually get to most everything.”
Just a few months into winter, another issue faces the city of Durango’s snowplow crews: money.
Because the city’s budget takes effect in January, Somsen must budget his resources for winter months early in the year, as well as for any possible snowstorms in November and December.
But already, just in the month of January, Somsen said the department has spent close to 60% of its $751,000 budget for plow operations, mostly on sanding material, snow hauling and liquid deicer.
“I’m probably going to run out of money here pretty soon,” he said.
Somsen believes he can get through the rest of the winter season, but he is concerned about funding for November and December. He said it is likely he will have to ask Durango City Council for more money, something he’s never done.
“We’ve had a lot of storms and used a lot of materials and labor hours,” he said. “It’s been an expensive month for snow removal.“