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County Highway Superintendents say this winter has been difficult

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HOPKINTON - Highway superintendents across St. Lawrence County have experienced first hand the winter weather that has many residents already looking for a break for the near constant pattern of brutal cold or snow.

December may have had an ice storm, but January hit the north country with several days of subzero temperatures, more snow and high winds, with some days with a combination of all three weather conditions.

There have been strings of consecutive days below zero on multiple occasions and the past few weeks have seen a fair share of snowfall as well.

Whether it be in Colton, Pierrepont, Parishville, Hopkinton, or Norfolk, the effects of the 2013-2014 winter weather have been felt, both in work and on town highway department budgets.

“For December, (I) was plowing and sanding 22 out of 27 days and then we had the ice storm so we still had a ton of trees out on the road. Normally you don’t plow and there’s not much as much weather in December. Just about every day I was out and about,” Hopkinton Highway Superintendent Stephen A. Green said.

“I’ve been in the area all of my life and I’ve actually worked (in Hopkinton) for eight years. Plus I worked for the St. Lawrence County Highway Department, but this is an above average winter for sure,” the recently elected town official said.

“It’s been a while since we’ve had a winter this bad. I’d say the last time was back during the ice storm in 1998. Us towns can’t afford to use the materials like the county can. The town doesn’t have the man power to run two shifts to give them the coverage, so we’re racking up a lot of overtime,” Norfolk Highway Superintendent Larry Villnave added.

“The ice has been the most difficult thing. You have to salt a lot with ice. When it’s cold, you can’t melt it and you have to use real salt and that’s an extra expense.”

Pierrepont Highway Superintendent Shawn D. Spellacy said that his department has used 700 tons of salt so far, just about on pace with the average total for the winter season. He also said that given the highway department’s budget year, even a tough start to 2014 can balance out with slower times later in the year.

“Our budget goes from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31 so you can have a bad January, February, and March, but then in September, October and November we could have good months. It all seems to average out in the end,” Mr. Spellacy said. “For us, if you try to be patient, it averages out in time.”

The head of the Parishville’s Highway Department, Patrick Remington, noted that when temperatures drop below freezing, salting and sanding roads becomes significantly more tricky.

“We’ve had bad winters, but we got spoiled during the past three or four years. We got more ice than we usually do. The last few years have been fairly mild,” Mr. Remington said. “When it gets to a certain temperature, the sand doesn’t work. Once you get around 10 or 15 above, it gets difficult. The colder it is, the slower it works. ... All we can hope for is an early spring.

“Another problem has been that in the cold that the sand doesn’t stick to the road well because it has to be above zero for it to work,” Mr. Green added.

Both Mr. Spellacy, as well as Colton Highway Superintendent Kevin Hawley, have had multiple terms at the helm in Pierrepont and Colton respectively, and despite the tough season thus far they know how to keep a positive outlook.

“We’ve been steady. We’re on shift work so there are people here from 4 a.m. until 9 at night, so we’ve got most of the nasty weather covered,” he said. “It takes four hours for a truck, once it starts at your house, it takes four hours to make its way back around to that same spot. When it’s snowing two or three inches an hour for an hour, it makes it difficult. It’s alright though. Guys are holding up, and the equipment is doing well so far,” according to the Pierrepont highway superintendent.

Mr. Hawley said snowfall totals are actually down from other years. “We had the (ice storm) in December and that was kind of unusual, but I think we are pretty aligned with normal winters,” Mr. Hawley added. “There have definitely been a lot worse winters. I’d say we’re close to half of the snow fall for the year for where we’d normally be. It’s going good but kind of slow. We are ready for spring.”

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