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City snow removal in full swing after host of big storms

The Cortez snow removal team has had its hands full with large, back-to-back snowstorms this season. (Jim Mimiaga/The Journal)
City employees have worked overtime to keep the roads clear

Cortez’s snow removal team has had its work cut out for them during this winter of back-to-back snowstorms, which have shut down U.S. Highway 491 and created a mess of many roads in the county.

City Manager Drew Sanders said the state contracts the city to remove snow on Main Street, but the rest of the snow removal on city roads comes straight from the city budget.

“So when it comes to cost, that’s all just part of our regular operating costs,” Sanders said, adding that the city pays a lot of overtime to snow crews.

City road crews have worked 362 hours of overtime since Jan. 1, costing $15,120.49. Crews have used 1,182 gallons of diesel fuel for snow removal equipment, not including snow removal at the Cortez Municipal Airport and city parks and Recreation Center.

Additionally, crews have spread 260 tons of sand and 26 tons of salt to help with snow removal.

After providing the cost for 2023, Sanders declined to provide details about the cost of 2021 and 2022.

But according to public records that The Journal obtained through a Colorado Open Records request, the city used more sand and salt on roads during the milder winter of 2021 – 313 tons of sand and 32.3 tons of salt. However, crews worked only 103.5 overtime hours, costing $2,742.

Because of the dry winter in 2022, the city only used 65 tons of sand and 15 tons of salt, and 38 overtime hours, for a total of $1,007 for the season.

While the city did not provide a month-by-month cost, City Clerk Linda Smith said the numbers pertained to all the snow removal work during 2021 and 2022.

The Public Works Department is largely in charge of handling Cortez’s snow removal, but Sanders said other employees often are asked to help because of limited resources.

“They kind of shift resources from one area to another, but it’s kind of all hands on deck when we have a major snowstorm,” Sanders said.

Workers go out day and night to clear roads after a storm. Crews start with streets on major routes, then work their way to smaller routes and neighborhoods in need of plowing.

Sanders explained that many snow removal drivers will not only plow city roads, but will go out of their way to help those who may not be able to plow their own driveways, such as elderly individuals or those with special needs.

“One of the things I’m very proud about is not only do they put an awful lot of work into doing it, which is a very tough job by the way, but they also offer personalized service,” Sanders said. “They’ll get out there and do what they can and do what needs to be done to get them. It’s really nice to watch. These folks are very service oriented, and that’s what it takes.”

While crews may be criticized about how fast they are able to clear snow, Sanders said it’s important to remember that they are going as fast as they can considering the miles of roads they need to clear during and after each storm.

“They are doing the very best they can as quick as they can, and it’s not going to be perfect,” he said.

In addition to all the roads in Cortez to clear, the airport is also part of the city’s snow removal jurisdiction. Sanders emphasized the importance of keeping the runway open and clear for essential air service and medical service emergencies.

During one of the recent big storms, he said there were workers out at the airport for at least 20 hours ensuring the runway was clear for any plane that might need to land.

During the 2021 winter season, the city spent 85 hours removing snow at the airport, costing $3,995 in straight time and $1,755.13 in overtime. That time drastically decreased during the dry winter of 2022, with only 27.5 hours worked, which totaled $1,485 straight hours and $660.56 in overtime.

The amount of snow the area has seen in 2023 has already caused crews to work almost double what they did in 2021. So far this season, the city has worked 123 hours to clear snow from the airport, costing $7,011 in straight time and $4,395.75 in overtime.

“We’re down on the number of people who work over the winter,” Sanders said. “We’re trying to be responsible with taxpayer money, so we don’t have a lot of people around in the wintertime who aren’t working, but you know, it would be nice to have them during the snowstorms.”

“It’s a lot to do and we’re doing our very best to stay on top of all of that,” he said.