Grand Haven Tribune: Pushing past the snow

Pushing past the snow

Alex Doty • Jan 6, 2018 at 9:00 AM

Northwest Ottawa County has seen its share of snow for the past several weeks.

“To use the word ‘incredible’ would be an understatement,” said Kevin Tuuk of The City Farmer, which operates a local fleet of 28 snowplow drivers. “We’ve been going since Christmas Day.”

According to Tuuk, when the snow flies, drivers typically all start at 1 a.m. and try to be finished plowing by 10 a.m.

“That’s usually our go time,” he said.

Officially, the Muskegon area has received more than 60 inches of snow this season, up from the normal 32.4 inches at this time of year, forecasters say. The local 24-hour snowfall record was broken in late December when 14.7 inches was recorded; the previous record was 7.6 inches in 1961.

On average, the area receives between 1 and 1.5 inches of snow each day at this time of year, and forecasters noted that, by 9:30 a.m. Thursday, a total of 9.7 inches had fallen within the first three days of 2018. 

Tuuk said his snowplows have hit the pavement as many times this winter, less than a month into the season, as they did all of last winter.

“We plowed 16 days all of last winter,” he noted.

While the snow brings plenty of work, there are obstacles to overcome. 

One issue, according to Tuuk, is that a portion of his crew also work jobs during the day and plow at night for extra income. This, he said, can keep the rest of the crew busy if they need to go out and clear snow during the day.

Another struggle with the constant demand is keeping up with equipment maintenance. Tuuk noted that many of The City Farmer’s drivers are also the ones who maintain the equipment — meaning that, when they are out clearing driveways and parking lots, there is less time in the garage.

“Nothing breaks when it’s sitting there,” Tuuk said. “It breaks when you use it.”

Although he’s been busy the past few weeks, Tuuk said he doesn’t want to complain.

“After the winter we went through last year, it is a blessing,” he said. “Last year was tough on the bottom line. ... You don’t want to be complaining, (but) we still need our sleep.”

Private plow drivers aren’t the only ones who’ve been busy as of late.

“We had 2,700 total overtime hours for the month of December,” Ottawa County Road Commission spokesman Zach Russell said. “We had trucks out many nights, as well as on Christmas and New Year’s Day.”

Russell noted that the extreme cold temperatures make winter maintenance difficult.

“The cold often means equipment is more likely to break down and require more maintenance,” he explained. “And these cold temperatures mean that salt is less effective on the roads than it is at higher temperatures. The amount of snow we’ve gotten, especially consecutive days of snow, means that our crews are mainly focused on state roads and primaries.”

This means there may be more of a delay in getting to secondary roads and subdivision streets.

“We just want to remind people that we’ve got our crews out keeping things clear as best as possible, but with this kind of harsh winter, it can be difficult to keep up with,” Russell said. “The best thing to do is take it slow and always drive for the conditions.”

Derek Gajdos, director of the Grand Haven Department of Public Works, said that his crews are also working day and night to keep the streets snow-free.

“Things have gone as best as we can expect with all of the snow we’ve seen,” he said. “The only thing we’re struggling with a little bit is drifting.”

If you’ve noticed snow drifting back across the road in the city of Grand Haven, Gajdos said you should call the DPW office.

“We don’t necessarily see them all of the time,” he said.

And even with the snow onslaught, Gajdos said there is no need to worry about running out of room to put the snow on Harbor Island, where the city eventually deposits the big piles from the streets.

“We have plenty of room out there on the island,” he said. “Our loaders can pile it up pretty high.”

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