Chatfield city maintenance crews ready to take on winter

Chatfield's city crew has been busy getting ready for Christmas and for winter, having hung the lights downtown for the holidays and revved up the snowplows for the coming snow. GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/CHATFIELD NEWS
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It’s beginning to look a lot like winter, everywhere you go…

“We typically start getting ready for winter at the end of October or the first week in November,” stated Brian Burkholder, Chatfield’s city maintenance supervisor, plugging in the last of the new Main Street Christmas lights the city purchased last year. In addition to making sure the town is ready for the holiday, Burkholder must also make sure the plows and other equipment are ready to keep streets and sidewalks safe.

Being in charge of a city crew that plows streets means Burkholder is often up until the wee hours attempting to determine whether the snow forecast he heard the evening before is going to appear.

“The biggest challenge is following the forecast every day, deciding how much snow we think we will receive and then relaying that to residents by KTTC News, Facebook and now the city alert system by 6 p.m. in hopes that cars are removed for safe plowing for our drivers, and getting the roadways cleared completely,” Burkholder said. “Also, it’s deciding when is the right time to do downtown snow removal between snows and coordinating trucks for hauling. For communication reasons, I plan our plowing start time by 6 p.m. the evening before to help employees prepare for the start time and to also give residents plenty of time to remove their vehicles from streets to avoid any tickets.”

Burkholder said crews usually start downtown snow removal by 1 a.m., giving them time for it to be completed by 5 a.m. on marked streets, as there is NO parking downtown from 2 a.m. to 5 a.m.

“Depending on how much we receive in the morning is when I decide if and how we will be plowing, whether it is centers only or curb to curb,” he said. “I usually lean towards getting the snow all the way to the curb and letting the salt and sand do its work. Also, the roads are clean and smooth, and if the weather warms up, the runoff will drain to the catch basins instead of pooling up and freezing.”

Burkholder outlined that the first order of business to take on winter — long before radio stations begin playing Christmas commercials, right after Halloween — is to put in an order.

“I call for our sand order the first of September and have sand delivered to Chatfield by the end of September. I have the road salt delivered in October, and we then mix our sand and salt 80 to 20 and stockpile it for use,” he said. “We usually buy 250 yards, but with multiple ice events last year, we did run out and needed to find more — we purchased an additional 100 yards. Through our state contract, we are allowed 125 tons, but usually use between 75 and 100 tons.”

It takes some horsepower — or Deere-power — to spread all that sand and salt, be it on Main Street beneath the glow of the Christmas lights or off on a side street, and that means Burkholder and his crew have to maintain heavy equipment for the job.

“When trading in our John Deere front end loader this past year, we replaced our wing and plow attachment with an 18-foot snow pusher attachment. The old loader was lighter and slid around, and the snow pusher will allow us to plow streets as a third plow if needed,” he said. “We will be cleaning cul-de-sacs and parking lots much more efficiently, and most of all, it will help with downtown snow removal, making it much more efficient because we’ll be using less equipment and manpower. And this year, we experimented with recycling our sand from sand swept from the streets.”

The maintenance foreman requested that residents respect the parking arrangements made so plow drivers can clear the streets properly. “People should have their cars off the streets if any snow is projected, even if it is less than an inch,” Burkholder said. “Weathermen are not always correct. I will also put a notice out the night before on the city’s new alert system — when you sign up, it will send out a text, voicemail or email, whatever you prefer, to your cell, landline phone or email. You can receive all options or one that you prefer most.” 

Furthermore, shoveling sidewalks and around fire hydrants ahead of storms lends a hand to the city crew and the fire department.

“Sidewalks need to be shoveled after each new snowfall to give residents a safe place to walk,” Burkholder said. “Cleaning out hydrants is very helpful, as there are over 200 of them, and they take time. It will also give residents near a hydrant peace of mind that if there is a major fire nearby, that the hydrant nearby is accessible for use by the fire department, as time is very crucial.”

Downtown Chatfield’s Main Street runs concurrent with Highway 52, but the city is responsible for all downtown snow removal, according to Burkholder. “The state reimburses the city for the cost of the removal of snow off of both Highway 52 and Highway 74, but the city pays for hauling. The residents and business owners are responsible for shoveling their portion of sidewalk.” 

He warned parents and neighbors of young outdoor adventurers to keep an eye on them as they’re playing in the snow. “Do not let them build snow forts along roadways or driveways because we don’t know if kids are playing in them. Plows could cover them up as they drive by,” Burkholder said.

Other safety advice he issued was related to sharing the road with a snowplow. “Do not follow a plow, as it is tough to see traffic behind — take a different route if possible.”

Other winter business includes keeping the water infrastructure in good shape and using it to flood the hockey rink in Mill Creek Park. Water main breaks have occurred over previous winters, but at this point, he has few concerns about them happening again, until the weather gets so cold that Jack Frost has dug himself deep underground.

“The deeper the frost goes, the better chance of main breaks. You can’t control what happens underground,” Burkholder said. “But residents can check their water temperature with an indoor-outdoor thermometer, and if their water reaches 38 degrees, they can call city hall and we will start running water.”

Burkholder added that work has begun to prepare the ice rink for skaters and hockey players. “The ice rink is always tricky, as the best temperature to make good ice is around 10 degrees for an extended time, with no sunshine. Most years, to get a good sheet of ice, it takes us flooding the ice rink every two hours overnight and early morning for a few days. It’s tough to flood it during the daytime when kids are out of school because that’s when it’s the busiest. It takes roughly 15 loads, or 30,000 gallons, to get a good sheet of ice.”

Ultimately, Burkholder has learned several things in his few years as maintenance supervisor — namely, not to get too worried about what’s to come.

“I’ve learned to order sand and salt early to avoid the delays in receiving the product, and not to get stressed about each given snowfall, as we do live in Minnesota and at the end of the day, the streets will get plowed,” he said.

And finally, a show of appreciation to the guys who keep Chatfield clean and drivable might be in order, as thanks — and even cookies — will boost their morale as they’re rising and shining before the sun comes up.

Burkholder admitted, “We would eat a cookie or two.”