After a second dump of snow within a week on Alaska’s biggest city, Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson said additional workers and equipment are supplementing the city’s normal snow removal crews.
“Some have suggested that we declare an emergency,” Bronson said during a press briefing on snow removal Monday afternoon. “There’s nothing we can do beyond what we’re doing, so the emergency would be simply meaningless.”
He and other muni officials’ comments followed two major snowstorms that dumped several feet of snow on the city and closed schools for four days. Dozens of cars have gotten stuck on snowy roads, and residents have complained of slow snow removal. A third significant winter storm is forecast to hit Wednesday and Thursday.
Muni officials said Monday that new agreements with private contractors, and unions representing drivers with the city’s Parks and Recreation staff and Anchorage School District will bring in more people and equipment to help clear roads. Bronson said that means up to 10 additional graders, 10 plow trucks and numerous dump trucks.
The city’s regular snow removal fleet as of Monday consisted of 28 operational road graders with about two drivers for each one running continuously in alternating 12-hour shifts. Bronson thanked the workers and called their effort heroic. He said they’ve been maintaining that pace since the snow began falling last Tuesday.
Muni officials said other teams with smaller equipment are tackling sidewalks and trails. Lance Wilber, Anchorage’s director of Economic and Community Development, said sidewalks serving bus routes are the first priority there. He asked drivers to take it slow around pedestrians.
Bronson said the problem right now is the amount of snow.
“Our challenge right now isn’t people and money. … The problem with the slowdown is the volume of snow,” he said. “Had we had these two snowfalls, you know, 10 days or two weeks apart, this would be a far more normal operation.”
Bronson said money will become an issue, particularly with snow hauling. He said clearing snow berms and hauling snow away usually isn’t necessary until January and the new budget year. But the volume of snow that’s already accumulated – and some illegal behavior – will force snow hauling now.
“Because we simply have no choice. And a lot of those problems are people moving their snow, their driveway snow, into the street,” Bronson said.
Fines for that begin at $300.
Bronson said getting parked cars off the street will also help the snow removal effort. He expects busier roads to be cleared overnight, with snow removal resuming in residential streets Tuesday morning.
The muni’s long-standing snow removal policy prioritizes the biggest streets first, and residential streets last, officials said. Wilber said after the city’s busier streets are cleared, a countdown clock begins for neighborhoods.
“Our target is to do all the neighborhoods inside of the Anchorage Bowl in 84 hours,” Wilber said.
Wilber acknowledged that the muni didn’t meet that standard – which is based off of average snowfalls – after last week’s abrupt dump. Some neighborhoods were hit by Sunday night’s snowstorm without service for the first one.
But Wilber noted the neighborhoods that were last in line after the first dump are now first in line.
Natasha Price of South Anchorage lives in one of the neighborhoods that went unplowed until Monday morning.
“So those big plow trucks made it through our cul-de-sac and the kids in the neighborhood are playing in the big mountain of snow in the middle,” she said.
The snow threw off her flower delivery business. Between the road conditions and her wholesaler’s reduced hours, she had to postpone all of her deliveries.
“Hopefully, the roads will be – the major roads – will be cleared tomorrow and I can make it over there and fulfill my floral duties,” she said.
Tabb Thoms works for Alaska Grounds Maintenance, which does a lot of private sector snow removal in and around Anchorage. He’s been in the business for more than 40 years. He credits the muni’s workers for their effort, but he thinks the quality of the city and state’s snow removal has been declining over the years.
“You go through these intersections and almost every intersection, you see parts of somebody’s car because the road was so atrocious,” he said of the aftermath of last week’s storm.
He said the difference is night and day between the publicly and privately maintained streets in Anchorage.