Port Orchard finally digs its way out of snow

Snow began falling in Port Orchard on Dec. 18, but it took until Dec. 29 before the city opened the hill on Sidney Avenue between Bay and Division streets.

During the intervening 11 days, residents plowed through their daily routines, making their best effort to get to work, back home, and to the store. Adding to this was a holiday, during which extensive shopping is required.

“This was a long haul,” said Port Orchard Public Works Director Mark Dorsey. “Our staff was working round-the-clock shifts in order to clear the snow. They really put themselves out there, and we appreciate their efforts.”

Thirteen people worked the double shifts, from noon to midnight and back again. They began with two plow-equipped snow trucks and a smaller vehicle, but one of the trucks blew out its engine on Dec. 23.

They continued plowing primary roads, moving gradually into secondary ones.

In most cases, the residential areas were left to fend for themselves.

“This was a unique storm,” said Kitsap County Public Works Spokesman Doug Bear. “Since Dec. 13, we had five separate fronts. Every time we made some progress on one, another would come along. It made it look like we weren’t making any progress, and this was very frustrating.”

Once people dug themselves out from their neighborhoods and onto the main roads, they found it easy to get around. But getting there often required a healthy amount of stop and go.

Dorsey, who lives in unincorporated Kitsap County, had to strap on chains to get to the highway, take them off for a short time, then replace them when he turned back onto city streets.

Like many travelers, Dorsey found himself moving through several jurisdictions — Bremerton, Port Orchard, Washington state, Kitsap County and Mason County.

In some cases, the borders were clearly definable, with roads perceptively improving or deteriorating at a jurisdictional limit.

Even so, a plow operator wouldn’t necessarily stop when they got to the border.

“I think most of our people went a little farther if they could,” Doresey said.

Bear seconded this, saying, “We ended up plowing some of the cities’ streets, and they plowed some of ours.”

Port Orchard Mayor Lary Coppola issued a statement this week, saying, “Our streets were in much better shape than a lot of other places in the county.”

While there was little formal coordination, Dorsey said individual workers took up the collective slack. Even so, he expects to participate in several meetings about how to coordinate efforts in the next storm.

“Even though (State Route) 116 goes through downtown, it is a state highway,” he said. “So I would expect them to take a larger share next time.”

Of all the primary roads, Dorsey said Mile Hill Drive was the most difficult to clear.

The city doesn’t even attempt to plow the Sidney Avenue “because we don’t want to end up like that bus hanging over I-5,” according to Dorsey. Instead, it plows Sidney from Tremont to Division to provide access to the Kitsap County Courthouse.

While the workers put in long days, they earned extra compensation along with the city’s appreciation.

After working eight hours in a single day, they received time and a half.

Weekends and Christmas paid double time. Money wasn’t a consideration, since the staff committed to work for as long as it took.

Accordingly, the city resolved to pay full salaries until the job was done and worry about the budget at a later date.

The money to pay salaries and expenses comes out of the road maintenance fund, which allocates a certain amount for snow clearance.

The 2008 amount was $51,000 and change, which Dorsey said “we have already burned through.”

“Because of this, we will begin 2009 in the red,” he said. “I expect that the city council we will need to pass a budget resolution.”

If there are no other major snow storms in 2009, the city should have no problem paying these bills, but such matters are impossible to predict. Dorsey expected to meet with Treasurer Kris Tompkins this week in order to determine how to cover the extra expenses from the storm.

Both Dorsey and Bear said they wanted to improve communications in the future. Dorsey has proposed posting snow maps on the city’s Web site in order to keep people apprised of plowing progress.

Bear may support a special snow emergency line where people can make plowing requests without tying up the operators.

The county expects to have a post-mortem storm discussion in January, followed by a meeting of all emergency management jurisdictions.

“This went as well as can be expected,” Bear said.

Dorsey said the city will replace its second truck sometime in January. As for next winter, he expects the city will purchase a third large truck to handle McCormick Woods if its annexation is completed by that time.

BOwX: The Port Orchard Public Works staff worked round the clock shifts from Dec. 18 to 28 and went beyond the call of duty. This includes Jay Cookson, Ray Petty, Dave Boltz, Dan Castillo, Sig Chrey, Marc Fournier, Dennis Muldrow, Von Nix, Alan Rickett, Matt Ryan, Jill Satran-Loudin, Bill Thiele and George Thompson.

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