By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily
Lander was pummeled with near-record amounts of snowfall last week. So far, the community has had nearly 60 inches of snowfall this winter, and it’s only January.
The last big snow has made traveling the streets of town nearly impossible, which has lingered with the city’s new snowblower not yet operational and its older model down for repairs.
“We’re just getting very congested in certain areas of town,” said Lance Hopkin, Public Works director for the city of Lander.
That’s because, although there are plenty of snowplows on the street, the mountains of snow channeled to the sides and center of the city streets made for challenging driving, Hopkin said.
“It’s more trying to get enough room for cars to travel, as well as some of the people who use the right of ways for parking – and then room for our operations, too,” he said.
So how do crews deal with cleanup after a major storm when they don’t have the tools they need?
The city’s new snowblower arrived at the beginning of the year before the snowstorm last week, but Hopkin said software updates needed to be installed, which wasn’t a problem until the older snowblower went down.
“We also do have a third small blower that doesn’t fill trucks very fast. It’s a hydraulic small loader blower, so we have other options to handle those situations,” said Hopkin.
But they’d rather be using the larger blowers to clear the streets whenever possible to save on labor.
“Taking a blower off of a loader and getting another one hooked up is a half a day’s worth of time in itself, just to transfer into a different machine,” he said. “I think this is the most overtime we’ve had in a month for our employees (in the seven years) since I’ve been here.”
Hopkin said the wear and tear on snow-removal equipment is significant, especially in a winter as snowy as this one, which means that the probability of more equipment being pulled out of service for repairs is high.
“They develop hydraulic leaks and other problems, so it’s a constant thing to just be working on your equipment all winter long as you’re using it,” he said.
What doesn’t help, said former Lander city councilman Michael Kusiek, is snarky comments on Facebook about the city’s challenges moving massive mountains of snow.
Many comments on the city’s Facebook post about the equipment breakdown are anything but supportive.
“It’s become a hobby for folks to sit in front of their phone or their computer and throw rocks privately, or in a way that they don’t have to confront anybody,” Kusiek told Cowboy State Daily. “And I don’t understand how folks get fed by that. It doesn’t make our town better.”
He responded to complainers on the city’s Facebook page by pointing out that the people doing the work have been facing unusual challenges for the last few weeks, and to please be patient.
“I think what happens is like so many things in this world; we gin each other up a bit on social media and stir the pot,” said Kusiek. “You know, when a piece of equipment breaks, there’s not a lot of six-figure pieces of equipment options that are better backup laying around most municipalities, and you’ve got to be patient.”
He pointed out that Lander is fortunate to have a budget that allows for snow plowing, even on side streets.
“A lot of towns in Wyoming don’t even plow their streets, other than the health care routes and the school routes,” said Kusiek. “So you know, when you have a budget that is set by the state and by your taxes you collect, that’s what you work with.”
But by and large, Kusiek said he thinks the residents of Lander do appreciate how big this storm was and how quickly the city responded.
“Stuff breaks once in a while and you get it fixed,” he said. “It’s just that simple.”
Doing The Best With What’s Available
Hopkin said he sympathizes with drivers who are having to navigate the large berms of snow in the middle of the streets, but city employees are doing their best.
“We are taking calls for people who are severely inconvenienced,” he said. “We’re trying to open up things for garbage trucks or vehicles that are stuck, whatever it may be, so (people) can reach out and contact us and we’ll try to get that worked in.”
Kusiek praised city staff for doing the best they can with what they have.
“The city does an amazing job for a town of less than 10,000 people, managing the resources we have,” he said.
But Hopkin also asked residents to do their best to avoid traveling on roads that aren’t just snowy, but slick.
“If people can keep their speeds reduced and just be patient out there, hopefully we can get the sand trucks out and try to get traction on the streets,” said Hopkin.
Kusiek noted that people should be prepared for winter driving – or else keep their vehicles off the streets altogether.
“We’re having a regular winter now, and folks need to be prepared for it,” he said. “You know, have the right car, have the right tires, be patient. A lot of my friends and neighbors are cross country skiing to get places when they don’t want to drive to town.”
Wyoming Isn’t For Everybody
Kusiek agreed that the storms that have repeatedly dropped snow on the state have created more inconvenience than in a “normal” year.
“In 20 days, we’ve had over 30 inches of snow,” he said. “That’s uncommon in most winters – you might get a big blizzard with 30 inches all at once, but to have it keep coming and keep coming.
“It’s just how Wyoming is, and you’ve got to be prepared for that.”
That’s why many people have chosen to live here, he added. “I think it was (former Gov. Dave) Freudenthal who said, ‘Wyoming’s not for everybody – thank God.’”