Local communities outside La Grande are not letting extreme weather get the best of them thanks to hard work, planning and, in Union, believe it or not, indirect help from Old Man Winter.
“We are holding our own,” said City of Union Administrator Sandra Patterson.
Snowdrifts have been an issue on some of Union’s side streets, which run east to west. This issue is being addressed by a new program in which snow is used to prevent snowdrifts.
City workers are moving snow that has been plowed onto the south side of the streets, creating berms up to 7 feet tall. The berms are designed to prevent wind from blowing snow onto the roads. City of Union Public Works Director Rod McKee is encouraged with the initial results of the project.
“I’m pretty optimistic that it will help us,” McKee said.
The City of Union is also keeping roads clearer with the help of a loader it has rented from a local contractor. The vehicle has a large bucket-type device in front that is used to scoop up snow. The loader has been a most welcome addition to the equipment the city has for snow removal.
“We can now move a lot more snow,” McKee said.
Keeping Union’s streets clear of snow will come with a price, including paying workers overtime, renting the loader and paying for additional fuel. McKee said snow removal expenses are “eating up” the money in a city maintenance project fund.
This means some maintenance projects scheduled to be done in 2016-17 may not be completed.
Some of the extra work caused by the extreme winter weather doesn’t cost the city anything, however.
Patterson said that people in the community are being asked to take steps to help ensure the well-being of others during frigid conditions, such as checking on the welfare of neighbors and making sure that fire hydrants in their neighborhoods are not covered with snow.
“We are asking people to dig (the hydrants) out so firefighters can find them,” Patterson said.
The City of North Powder is also staying on top of snow removal efforts, said its city recorder, Beth Wendt. The snow is being pushed to the edge of streets in neighborhoods, but in other areas where sidewalks must be kept open, the snow is being deposited at a site on city property. Snow is piling up there quickly, though, and Wendt said she does not know where additional snow will be put if there are more snowstorms.
“We are running out of space,” she said.
Finding places to deposit snow is difficult because it cannot be in the vicinity of buildings. For instance, Wendt noted that if snow were to be piled on a hill above a house, it could be flooded when the snow melts.
Imbler Mayor Mike McLean said the streets of his community are now clear thanks to the hard work of Dave Gover, who has been contracted to plow streets. Before the city’s roads were plowed, the conditions were challenging for the city’s residents.
“It (was) pretty tough for people to get out,” McLean said.
Imbler’s main street is part of Highway 82, so it is being kept clear by the Oregon Department of Transportation. Snow has been pushed onto the sidewalks on both sides of the street as a result of the plowing and is now about 4 feet high.
“The sidewalks are basically closed for the winter,” McLean said.
Normally the city plows its main street sidewalks, but that has not been possible this year.
“There is too much snow,” McLean said.
Island City is experiencing a similar issue because snow along McAlister Lane has been deposited by plows along its east sidewalk. The west sidewalk of McAlister Lane is clear though, and so are of Island City’s roads.
“Our crews are doing a great job,” said Island City’s city administrator, Karen Howton.
Elgin’s snow removal picture has been boosted by a used grader the city purchased two months ago.
“It has made a huge difference,” said Elgin City Administrator Brock Eckstein.
The grader is an addition to three pieces of snow removal equipment the city already had.
County roads in Union County are being kept clear by hard-working Union County Public Works crews. The county’s public works director, Doug Wright, told the Union County Commissioners on Wednesday that $224,000 has been spent for snow removal and the general expenses that come with it.
“Since Dec. 9 we’ve been in continuous winter storms,” Wright said. “It’s blossomed into quite the event. My crew has been working 16-hour days.”
Wright noted that the high winds have made it a particularly difficult and expensive season.
The county has already spent more money on snow removal than in years past. Wright said that last year the snow equipment was barely used.
“I haven’t gone over my budget, but I’m spending a lot of money,” he said. “We’ve spent close to $30,000 on fuel and $4,000 on chains.”
When there are high winds and blizzard conditions, Wright said, he keeps his crews back because it’s unsafe — and it would be a waste of time because wind can quickly fill a road with snow.
“I appreciate my crew,” he said. “They’ve done a great job.”
Wright said his crews focus first on clearing snow from school bus routes and all paved county roads in the Grande Ronde Valley and the North Powder area. The county crews have received some help from the Oregon Department of Transportation, which offers its services when it has the time.
Wallowa County has also been hit hard by the winter storms. Much of the snow that has been plowed in Enterprise has being taken to the Jensen athletic fields, said Ronnie Neil, Enterprise’s public works director.
In Wallowa, a number of pipes have frozen and in some cases broken, said City Recorder Carol Long. To prevent this from happening in the future, the city has taken steps to encourage residents to leave their water running, which will help avoid frozen pipes. The city has decided not to charge residents extra money if they use more water than the limit set for their standard bill in January and February, Long said.
The city’s snow plowing schedule gives priority to Wallowa’s senior citizens. Following a snowstorm, Wallowa’s senior center parking lot and the major roads are plowed. Next the residential streets are plowed. After each residential street is plowed, the resulting berms of snow are removed from the driveways of all seniors who get a ride to the Wallowa Senior Center for lunch, Long said.
Long credits City of Wallowa Public Works Supervisor Travis Goebel with doing an excellent job of keeping
seniors from being snowed in.
“He knows where the seniors live and makes sure they can get out,” Long said.
— Observer reporter Cherise Kaechele contributed to this report.