Heavy snow raises plowing expenses

Town has already spent half of budget

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

Incessant snow has melted much of Williston's plowing budget with months of winter weather still to go.

Counting the most recent storm, roughly half of the money set aside for clearing and salting the town's roads has been spent, according to Public Works Director Neil Boyden.

Blame the snowiest December in recent years. According to the National Weather Service in South Burlington, 45.3 inches of snow fell during the month, making it the fourth snowiest December on record.

"Busy" was Boyden's one-word assessment of the season so far. The town used plows to clear or salt roads 22 times in December alone.

Boyden is still tallying numbers from the most recent snowfall. But as of Dec. 28, the town had used 49 percent of its total salt budget, or about 1,000 tons. Salt usage closely mirrors what is going on with the overall plowing budget.

Williston budgeted almost $388,300 for plowing in the 2007-08 fiscal year. The budget includes expenses for labor, equipment and fuel as well as salt and sand.

That money pays for clearing 75 miles of roads and 8.5 miles of sidewalks in Williston. The town has a fleet of seven full-sized plows and a sidewalk plow. It also contracts with private companies to clear smaller streets the big trucks can't reach.

This snow season has been marked by a couple of large storms and many smaller snowfalls. The National Weather Service reported a total of 55.4 inches of snow as of Jan. 2.

The biggest single-day snowfall occurred on Dec. 16, when 11.9 inches were recorded at the airport in South Burlington. But a stream of smaller storms has kept plow drivers working steadily, especially compared to the previous year.

Williston snowplows hit the road only four times in December 2006, Boyden said. Through Jan. 2, plows had been out 32 times this season.

As a result, the town has used half of its plowing budget in a little more than a quarter of the snow season, which runs from mid-November to mid-April. Boyden said if the plowing budget is exhausted before the season ends he will make cuts in other areas.

There may be relief in sight. The three-month forecast calls for normal snowfall and temperatures, said Donny Dumont, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. The average annual snowfall in the Burlington area is 81.2 inches.

Boyden said things tend to even out over a long winter, so he's hopeful this will be a front-loaded snow season.

"Lots of times you have a snowy start at the beginning of the season and much less on the tail end," he said.