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City weathers a trying winter

Public works staff deals with 40 inches of snow, freezing wastewater plant

By Paul Deaton
Solon Economist
SOLON– As the city dealt with the effects of an oscillating polar vortex and 42 snow events, the Feb. 19 city council meeting provided evidence of how a small town dealt with extreme weather.
“We’ve had one snow emergency this year,” said Mayor Cami Rasmussen during the sheriff’s department report to the council. “With the snow that piled up from the other two to three snow storms that we had, we just needed the streets cleared so we could figure out what to do with the extra snow, and it was a snow that was really coming down crazy– we needed the visibility.”
February’s snowfall was the second highest since 2008, when unofficial Solon precipitation records began to be kept by the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snowfall Network (website: http://www.cocorahs.org). Totaling 16 inches, this month’s snowfall was about equal to the last three years combined (during the same period).
“We’ve had 42 separate (weather) activities that we’ve been involved in,” said Public Works Director Scott Kleppe. “Our staff of five have worked the last nine weekends, of which the last seven were Saturdays. Before those seven, we’ve worked two on Sundays. We accumulated 109 hours doing salting/ice removal; 288.5 hours of plowing, 86 hours on sidewalks and trails, and have spread an estimated 309 tons of salt. Through our measurements we’ve taken care of not only 42 activities, but about 40 inches of snow.”
Extremely cold temperatures combined with rapid thawing impacted the city.
“We have not experienced any weather issues on the water end yet this year,” said Kleppe, knocking on wood.
“We have experienced some issues at the wastewater facility. We’ve had ice forming where we’ve never had ice form before, since the upgrades in 2008,” Kleppe reported. “We actually had one of the new clarifiers ice up on the extreme cold weather days. We were having to go out there and take the ice off the surface.”
The city also experienced severe icing on the wastewater facility’s oxidation ditches. Ice damaged treatment equipment, requiring an engineering firm with a boom truck, a boat and a portable welder to effect repairs, according to Kleppe.
The buildup of snow and ice, followed by a thaw on Feb. 18, caused a problem with water coming into the basement at the fire station. “The gutters were so full of ice we had water coming out from behind the gutters, out of the soffit, so obviously there are ice damage issues up on the roof,” said Kleppe. A city crew disconnected frozen downspout tiles from the iced over gutter to install temporary tubing to route falling water away from the foundation.
The following day, a crew cleaned the rest of the snow and ice from the roof and the gutters. “Very flat gutters keep building up ice,” said Kleppe. He indicated the gutters are not big enough to handle the water coming off the roof. “The way they are configured it does more backing up, especially in the colder weather,” he said.
“That was on the list anyway, wasn’t it?” queried Mayor Rasmussen, indicating fire station gutter work had been planned. Fire fighters used a squeegee to clean up the water.
The storm precipitated a discussion about the city’s 2012 Gator. Kleppe said the vehicle had been a disappointment. It had been used less than 200 hours in two years and had cost more than $4,000 in repairs after the warranty ran out. Despite efforts of John Deere corporate to address the problems, Kleppe remained dissatisfied.
“We used it during this last snow event. If you’re operating the plow with that, and of course doing the sidewalks you’re up, down, turn several times, the charging system lasts only 15 minutes. You lose power and can’t operate the plow anymore.” He indicated he would return to the council at a later date with a request to replace the vehicle.
“During the last snow removal, one of the brand new street lights was taken down by a plow truck that I was operating,” said Kleppe in closing. The claim was turned into insurance.
During council comments, council member Brad Kunkel mentioned a complaint from Fox Ridge subdivision about excess snow being piled up next to mailboxes and obscuring visibility. “It’s a lot of snow. Where’s it supposed to go?” said Mayor Rasmussen. A general discussion followed, and Kunkel indicated he thought the council should get ahead of the problem by creating a city-wide process to deal with excessive snowfall before next year. No conclusions were reached.
In other business, Kleppe provided an update on the progress of the new city hall. A pay application for the new city hall was approved in the amount of $53,367.20.
The council approved a preliminary plat of Fox Ridge, Part 6, and approved a first reading of Ordinance No. 413 rezoning Lot 1 of Fox Ridge, Part 6 from R-4 Residential to R-3 Residential.
Design Dynamics, Inc. was approved to conduct a full property survey, schematic design and construction cost estimate for an addition to the existing fire station, with the design expected in June or July.
Mayor also framed times for joint city council meetings with the library board (March), the planning and zoning commission (April), and the parks and recreation commission (May). The next city council meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, March 5, at 5:30 p.m. at the public library.