Remembering the winter that was

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Catherine W. Idzerda
Monday, April 7, 2014

JANESVILLE—We all know it was a bad winter.

Not in terms of the amount of snow, but in terms of cold and the relentless drag of gray skies that signaled another round of snow, freezing rain, rain or some new cocktail including all of the above.

Although there's no index to measure weather-generated misery, this winter's severity can be measured by tangibles such as tons of road salt, water main breaks, plowing costs and even water usage.

That's not to mention school days. Most school districts racked up four or five days off because of severe weather. In a usual year, districts have one or two.

We asked public works officials for a winter round up from their communities.

--Janesville: Operations Director John Whitcomb reported that, taking into account the salt the city will need to buy and some other expected expenses, the departments is about $250,000 over-expended for 2014.

During an average winter, Whitcomb explained, the city tries to budget for seven plowing operations, 18 chemical spreading operations, three downtown snow removals and 4,000 tons of salt.

That's based on a winter with about 36 inches of snow.

The city also tracks the number of full and partial plowing operations and full and partial salting operations. For the three prior winters, the average number of all types of operations was 25. For the winter of 2013-2014, there were 52 operations.

Now consider this: In an average winter, Janesville's Water Utility staff respond to about 47 water main breaks. This year, that number rose to 123, an increase of 162 percent.

--Orfordville: A resident in the 600 block of West Beloit Street had his water lateral freeze three separate times, according to minutes from a March 24 village board meeting.

The first time it froze for one day; the second time, three days; the third time, 17 days. 

The resident told officials he had let the water run as instructed.

Orfordville Director of Public Works Karl Stuvengen told officials at the meeting that 12 other laterals had frozen in the village.

Residents kept their water on, resulting in a jump in water usage from 13.5 million gallons to 14.8 million gallons.  Plowing expenses went from $8,500 to $13,100.

--Beloit: The city's plowing expenses went from an average of $251,490 to $589,292. In a usual winter, about 30 water mains break. This winter, city workers dealt with 136 water main breaks or frozen laterals.

--Town of Beloit: The town saw its plowing expense more than double, going from $11,069 during an average winter to $27,395 this winter. The amount of road salt used went from 150 tons to 268 tons.

--Clinton: Roger Johnson has been Clinton public works director for 25 years.

In all those years, there has never been a water service “freeze up.”  This winter, the village had five.

The department usually salts the streets but doesn't plow unless there's a significant snow.

 “We probably plowed three times as much this year,” Johnson said. “It was too cold; the salt wouldn't work.”

The department spent an estimated $8,700 in overtime for the 2013-2014 season. That compares to about $4,450 during 2012-2013.

-- Milton: Administrator Jerry Schuetz said the city has seen “anywhere between 25 percent to 30 percent increase in costs this winter, year to date, with November/December of 2014 left to go.”

That includes a “modest increase” in this year's budget for sand and salt.

Milton had to deal with six water main breaks and six frozen laterals, which were a new issue, Schuetz said.

-- Walworth County: In an average winter, the county spends about $1.97 million on plowing. This year, that amount was $2.85 million.  The amount of road salt used went from 22,700 tons to 30,388 tons.

--Whitewater: Whitewater Streets and Parks Superintendent Chuck Nass said the city saw a 48 percent increase in spending compared to the last three years due to the high volume of plowing, sanding and staff hours.

The city asked residents to keep their water running to help prevent main breaks. In exchange, the city agreed to subsidize the cost of extra water.

It helped, but the city still had six more water main breaks than usual, Nass said.

It's been a long winter.

 “I am proud of my staff as well as the other city departments for the work we all have done over this past winter season,” Nass said.

Gazette reporters Nick Crow, Marcia Nelesen, Andrea Anderson and Neil Johnson contributed to this story.

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