Weather keeps city crews busy

February 3, 2012

By Christina Lords

Public Works employees slept in City Hall overnight during storm

By John Jensen Griffin Cour, a Newcastle resident, catches some air off of a snow pile near Newcastle Elementary School during the snowstorm that created havoc for city staff members for more than a week beginning Jan. 15.

While most Newcastle residents endured the brunt of January’s snow, wind, ice and consequential debris from the comfort of their own homes, five members of the Newcastle Public Works maintenance crew weren’t so lucky.

Despite 16-hour shifts, equipment malfunctions and no covered space to put chains on vehicles, Public Works Director Mark Rigos said the city staff “did an exceptional job under the circumstances.”

“We have a very small staff here,” he said. “They put in so many hours during this storm. Some had to sleep in City Hall … one of our guys didn’t go home for five or six days.”

The storm began Jan. 15 and created problems for city crews for more than a week. While final estimates on how much the storms cost the city are still pending, Rigos said the equipment, sand, gasoline, deicing materials and extra labor could add up to more than $10,000.


Power goes out for some

Coal Creek Utility District crews met obstacles of their own after the district’s Meadowview II sewer lift station, serving The Reserve neighborhood, lost power from Jan. 20 through the afternoon of Jan. 22.

The upper May Valley sewer lift station, which serves more than 150 families in the neighborhood of the Highlands at Newcastle, intermittently lost power that weekend as well.

Despite the setbacks, district crews were able to maintain water and sewer services to all customers in the district.

Both onsite and portable generators were brought into service, said Robert Russell, general manager at CCUD. They were operated and monitored around the clock in order to continue uninterrupted services to families in areas that had lost power, he said.

Pamela Martin, president of the CCUD Board of Commissioners, praised district staff for their work on behalf of customers.

“We prepare for emergencies like this, and our employees took the actions necessary to ensure that no families lost these vital services during the recent power outages,” she said.

While cleanup from the storms continues, power has been restored to all CCUD facilities and neighborhoods within its boundaries.


‘24 hours a day’

The city rented a hotel room within a few miles of Newcastle to allow crew members to catch up on sleep during the storm, while some hunkered down at City Hall with cots and sleeping bags instead of risking the drive home and not being able to make it back, Rigos said.

“Some of these guys were just really hungry to help out the community,” he said. “Being a small city, there’s just not a lot of redundancies in staff that can do this work. The residents are counting on these streets to be plowed and sanded, so that’s what we did.”

The city owns three snowplows; two of those have sanding capabilities.

“Those things were running pretty much 24 hours a day,” Rigos said. “We even had shifts at night, some from 12 to 8 a.m. Those trucks were working 24-7 for five or so straight days.”

One of the trucks had a malfunction and couldn’t deice the streets for a period of time, while another truck had a fuel filter go out Jan. 19 during the second phase of the snowstorm. That truck was out of commission for about four or five hours.

City staff members reached out to the city of Renton during that time to make up for the down plow, but Renton trucks were running at full capacity, Rigos said.

The city is now working on an interlocal agreement to be able to call in the assistance of a plow owned by CCUD, he said.

Rigos said a member of the crew drove to Seattle to find the right part despite business closures and poor road conditions to ensure the equipment would be up and running as soon as possible.


Potholes were filled

In December, the City Council budgeted $150,000 to install a maintenance garage at Lake Boren Park that will enable employees to have a space to work on equipment in inclement weather in the future.

Priority 1 routes on the city of Newcastle’s snow and ice priority route map, which include Coal Creek Parkway and Newcastle Golf Club Road, were maintained throughout the weeklong event, Rigos said, while other arterials and side streets were plowed as often as possible.

After the storm, he said he started to receive calls Jan. 20 from residents concerned about large potholes, especially along Coal Creek Parkway, that were becoming a hazard for motorists.

While he said January is not the ideal time to lay concrete due to weather conditions, road crews were filling the holes until more permanent fixes are possible.

Crews were also busy after the storm cleaning up tree limbs and other debris throughout the city, collecting more than seven dump trucks worth of debris on Jan. 24 alone.

“Some cities in the Midwest who are used to dealing with this … have dedicated funding for these types of snow events,” he said. “It can be a huge portion of their budget, but up in the Northwest, there’s just not as much money allocated toward this stuff, and when it does happen you feel it a little more.”


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