By JOSH NEWTON
Tahlequah’s street commissioner and mayor on Monday defended the work of the city’s employees in the wake of last week’s winter storm, and said efforts will continue to clear the streets of snow and ice.
After more than 5 inches of snow fell last Friday, covering area roads that were already layered with ice, some residents claimed the city wasn’t doing enough.
But Street Commissioner Mike Corn on Monday said his crews worked 24-hour shifts through Sunday evening.
“The thing about it is, it’s been a while since we’ve had this much ice underneath snow, and then you get 6 or 7 or 8 inches of snow, and it just takes time,” said Corn. “We’ve been working two shifts, 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.”
On Sunday evening at 6, Corn sent all street department employees home to rest. He felt the crews could do little to improve road conditions, which by then were mainly icy.
“We really weren’t doing much good just scraping at ice,” said Corn. “We had sanded and salted everything probably three or four times, although I’m sure there were areas we missed. Sand and scrape is about all you can do; just try to clear it off and put sand on it.”
Corn said the city has historically put only a small amount of salt into its sand mixture.
“We don’t budget enough. I’m not saying we don’t have enough money in our budget to do it, but historically, we’ve put very little salt in our sand. This has me rethinking that decision,” Corn said. “We’re just trying to do what we can.”
Corn said the street department’s crews try to target the city’s main avenues of travel first.
“This year, it was tough with the bypass, because the state hadn’t been able to do the bypass for some reason,” said Corn. “So we’ve tried to get to the main roads passable, then we branched out from there and tried to hit the neighborhoods, hit stop signs and hills so people can get where they can start and stop. As time is available, we come back to the neighborhoods and try to grade them.”
Corn said his crews will likely return to around-the-clock shift work when temperatures rise a few degrees and help thaw snow and ice. He expects to order another load of sand by the end of the week, but said the city has plenty for now.
“We’ve been working day and night,” said Corn. “It’s easy to get aggravated when you don’t see more being done, but I know the guys are going as hard as they can go to clear the streets.”
Corn said the street department has one employee manning the phone system 24 hours a day, and had six people working the streets in sand trucks and graders. By Monday, the department had three sand trucks in the city and two graders scraping.
As for whether the city should spend more money on equipment to help deal with snow and ice, Corn said those items would get little use year-round.
“That’s just like anything else; it’s worth it when you need it, but it sits there all year-round,” said Corn. “That’s the problem with snowplows and stuff like that.”
Corn said city residents can report poor road conditions to his office, and employees will do their best to tackle the issue.
Mayor Jason Nichols used Facebook Monday to address the complaints that flooded in over the weekend.
“While it’s unfortunate that the street department doesn’t have a written plan of action for situations like this (or, at least not one they’ve been able to produce when asked), I leave it to their expertise to decide what to sand/plow and when, and how they go about it,” Nichols wrote.
Nichols said the city needs to be better prepared in the future, but stressed that the city’s employees deserve credit for their work.
“Unfortunately, Mother Nature dealt us quite a blow,” said Nichols. “They are working long, difficult hours. ... On Thursday afternoon, the street department was as ready as they were going to be.”
He said blame should not be assigned for any problems.
“Is there a villain in this story? No. The [street] commissioner doesn’t dictate the weather. The city’s crews are working hard. The council and I have worked hard to provide resources to every department, the street department included,” Nichols said. “After this is all over, and operations have returned to normal, we’ll look into how we can put our assets to use a little better in preparation for the next weather event.”