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DPW's war with winter going well

DPW Superintendent Don Brantley with one of the large trucks used for plowing and salting. (click for larger version)
February 05, 2014 - As the harsh, record-breaking winter continues to rapidly deplete the maintenance budgets of county road commissions throughout Michigan, the Oxford Village Department of Public Works (DPW) is sitting pretty.

"I think we're in awesome shape," said DPW Superintendent Don Brantley. "As of Jan. 21, I've got more than 50 percent left in my wage (budgets) under snow and ice (removal)."

For major streets, such as Burdick, Pontiac and Glaspie streets, the DPW had $4,000 budgeted for straight time wages and $3,500 for overtime wages. So far, the DPW has spent $1,036 and $1,326, respectively.

For local streets, such as Park, Dennison and Hovey streets, the DPW has $4,100 budgeted for straight time wages and $3,800 for overtime wages. So far, the DPW has spent $1,763 and $2,868, respectively.

The only budget that's slightly over is the one for overtime wages related to parking lot maintenance.

"We budgeted $3,800 and we've used $4,081," Brantley said. "That's because we've had to plow them so many times. We've just had so much snow."

According to the National Weather Service, the Detroit area has had 59.9 inches of snow since November. The average yearly snowfall for the Detroit area is 42.7 inches.

The month of January alone saw 39.1 inches fall, breaking the record for Detroit's snowiest January (29.6 inches in 1978) and the most snow in a single month (38.4 inches in February 1908).

The overtime comes into play with parking lots because they have to be plowed at night when they're not filled with vehicles.

"Roads you can do anytime," Brantley said. "Parking lots you've got to do from midnight on. You can't do parking lots at four in the afternoon."

But when it comes to straight time wages, the overall parking lot maintenance budget is still in excellent shape.

The DPW budgeted $21,200 and has spent $9,904. Brantley noted this budget is for the whole year and includes sweeping, striping and signage, not just snow and ice removal.

The DPW is also doing quite well in terms of road salt. Brantley's department still has more than 50 percent of its salt budget remaining because it began the season with about 350 to 400 tons left over from the past two years. "That really helped our budget," he said.

Since the first snowfall at the end of November, the DPW has spread 600 to 650 tons.

"The biggest thing that I'm running into now is getting the salt delivered," Brantley said.

As can be expected, salt is in high demand these days. Brantley ordered a load Jan. 17 and didn't receive the 50 tons until Jan. 31.

Brantley noted the DPW is conservative about salt use, meaning streets are plowed, then salted. Crews don't salt, plow, then salt again.

"Anything over an inch (or) an inch-and-a-half, we try to push it off (the street) and clean it up the best we can, then lay salt," he said. "We don't just lay a heavy salt to do the work for us."

Should salt become "scarce" or the salt budget get used up before winter's over, Brantley said the DPW's contingency plan is to stop salting local streets.

"We're going to salt around the schools and intersections, and salt our major streets and possibly the aisleways in parking lots, but that would be it," he said.

The subzero temperatures have not caused any water main breaks in the village like they have in other communities.

"Fortunately, we have not had to deal with any of that," Brantley said. "That's just from being proactive. We've done a lot of water main projects and a lot of service (line) upgrades. There are some old water mains, but they're not giving us any problems as of yet."

Brantley said the only issue the DPW's encountered has been four frozen water service lines leading to a mix of commercial and residential properties.

As for the DPW trucks, they've been holding up "fairly well" against this abnormal winter, according to the superintendent.

With the exception of having to replace a dump truck's hydraulic pump, Brantley said everything else has been "minor stuff" that's been taken care of "in-house."

Although things are going well now, Brantley hopes the weather will "lighten up" for the rest of the winter.

"If things continue in February and March like they did in January, by the end of the season, I think we're going to be swimming down a different river," he said. "But right now, I think we're in good shape."

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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