Anchorage Running Out of Places to Put Snow

The snow just keeps on piling up in Anchorage. At last check, nearly 120 inches had fallen so far this winter, making it the fourth snowiest winter on record, and has the municipality scrambling to keep up.

There’s so much snow, says Dan Southard, Public Works Superintendent for the Municipality of Anchorage for the Street Maintenance Section, that they’re running out of places to put it. As Southard explains, his department terraces the snow dump sites. First they build the snow out, then they build up, and once the temperature starts warming things can get tricky.

“We build ‘em up a level and we use water trucks and build an ice pad so we can actually drive the trucks up on top of that level and then we build up to the next level and we keep ramping up and building up as the winter goes. What’s happening here is mother nature’s gonna take over here in a few weeks and the temperatures will rise and we won’ t be able to keep running on these ice roads up on top of the snow sites,” Southard said.

The six snow dump sites range from 5 to 30 acres. Four of the six use the terracing method. Southard says it’s hard to say exactly when they’ll be unable to use the terraced sites.

“I think we’re good for another 2-3 week really hauling into these sites, before we start losing the floors in ’em,” Southard said.

When that happens the municipality will have to look elsewhere. Tuesday night the Anchorage Assembly voted to make it easier to add more snow storage sites, for both private snow removal companies and the municipality. The new sites will be temporary and expire this summer. Permitting will not be as stringent as usual, with the intention of expediting the process. At his weekly press conference Mayor Dan Sullivan said the extreme amounts of snowfall have strained the municipality’s resources.

“It really does explain why our snow dumps are so full and our crews have been working non-stop,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan announced a new ‘Snow Removal Report’ has been added to the municipality’s website

“And every day you can log on to see what the crews did overnight and what areas they’ll be focusing on the following day. So it really does give you a real time sense of what just happened and what the plan is for the next day,” Sullivan said.

Staff say the site is an attempt to be more transparent about snow removal work, after complaints the municipality has not been keeping up with removal in some neighborhoods. The site notes the historical average: 49.8 inches, and this year’s total inches – 120 as well as how much money the city usually spends on snow removal: 4,896,625 on average and this year’s budget expenditure: over 8 million and counting. The continuing snowfall also has Sharen Walsh, the building official for the Municipality of Anchorage concerned. She’s worried about snow loads on roof tops.

“Well, we’re definitely watching the situation. And we have had some roofs in town that have shown signs of stress or strain or cracking. We’ve had, I believe people have seen in the news, two roofs that have actually collapsed,” Walsh said.

Those roofs were on older buildings with flat roofs with malfunctioning draining systems. She says most roofs are still okay. Another problem, Walsh says though, is ice dams created by heat sources such as ridge vents or plumbing vents that melt snow and refreeze it.

“Those are quite a nuisance. They can cause water damage within the structure. We’re to the point where if a person has an older structure, they’ve seen some signs of stress on it. Maybe some sheet rock cracking in their ceiling, they might want to consider lightening that load,” Walsh said.

But if you’re considering clearing your roof off, you’d better get going, because forecasters say that two of the daily snow fall records have occurred in March. Looking ahead to the next few weeks they say we should expect snow, snow and more snow.

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Daysha Eaton is a contributor with the Alaska Public Radio Network.

Daysha Eaton holds a B.A. from Evergreen State College, and a M.A. from the University of Southern California. Daysha got her start in radio at Seattle public radio stations, KPLU and KUOW. Before coming to KBBI, she was the News Director at KYUK in Bethel. She has also worked as the Southcentral Reporter for KSKA in Anchorage.

Daysha's work has appeared on NPR's "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered", PRI's "The World" and "National Native News". She's happy to take assignments, and to get news tips, which are best sent via email.

Daysha became a journalist because she believes in the power of storytelling. Stories connect us and they help us make sense of our world. They shed light on injustice and they comfort us in troubled times. She got into public broadcasting because it seems to fulfill the intention of the 4th Estate and to most effectively apply the freedom of the press granted to us through the Constitution. She feels that public radio has a special way of moving people emotionally through sound, taking them to remote places, introducing them to people they would not otherwise meet and compelling them to think about issues they might ordinarily overlook.

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