Council to discuss possible ways of doing things differently at March strategy session

    Two Crookston residents living on opposite ends of town voiced similar complaints at Monday’s Crookston City Council meeting about the City’s recent snow-plowing efforts and how it leads to not just blocked-in driveways and sidewalk approaches, but blocked-in driveways and sidewalk approaches that shovels and snowblowers prove to be no match when it comes to clearing the tall, wide piles of big snow chunks and compacted snow.

    “I know there’s a lot of people who are pissed off,” said Dave Regeimbal, who lives on Park Lane in northwest Crookston. “You’re dropping chunks that weigh hundreds of pounds; there’s got to be something you can do different.”

    The council will conduct its annual day-long strategic planning session on Saturday, March 30. Mayor Guy Martin, after hearing Monday’s complaints and subsequent discussion, asked Public Works Pat Kelly between now and the strategy session to “think of some alternatives to what we’re doing now” and bring some of those ideas to the session.

    “This will be addressed at the strategy session,” At Large Council Member Bobby Baird added. 

    Regeimbal spoke during the open forum that opens each council meeting. He was followed by Woods Addition resident Emily Harrington, who said that, even at her age, she “can shovel with the best of them” but has been no match for the massive snow piles and chunks deposited by City equipment of late at the end of her driveway and sidewalk approach. Saying she’s not able to “rely on the kindness and generosity” of her neighbors every single time she’s snowed in, Harrington noted that her husband missed an appointment at the clinic one recent day because they couldn’t get out of their driveway.

    It’s not necessarily the City’s initial pass on streets with plow trucks and road graders that had Regeimbal and Harrington irked enough to voice their complaints Monday. It’s when the City comes by a second or third time in the hours and days after a snow event in an attempt to widen streets that have been narrowed by previous snow events and plowing efforts that result in higher snowbanks that start to extend into traffic lanes.

    Regeimbal, who works for the Minnesota Department of Transportation and says he’s plowed many roads himself, said he had to hire someone with a front-end loader to clear the end of his driveway after a City plow made a pass in an attempt to widen Park Lane. “A person shouldn’t have to go out and kill themselves trying to clear their driveway,” Regeimbal said, adding that he “bent” his snowblower trying to clear the end of his driveway before hiring someone with bigger equipment to do it. “A snowblower should be enough,” he said.

    The City last year purchased a gate designed to prevent the ends of driveways from being plowed in, but Public Works Director Pat Kelly said that only impacts one of his department’s five plow routes. Plus, he said, when there’s a major snow event, the gate becomes less effective.

    Kelly said he understood the frustrations, but added that when his crews have an opportunity to widen streets narrowed by snowbanks, they have to take advantage of it. “You can’t let things narrow up until you don’t even have parking,” he said.

    It’s not like the “old days” from decades ago, Kelly continued, when various farmers would sometimes be hired to haul snow out of neighborhoods.

    Although she didn’t advocate for returning to that practice from days gone by, Harrington did wonder if it’s possible for the City to employ someone with a Bobcat or other equipment to follow City equipment on plow routes to clear blocked-in driveways and sidewalk approaches. Maybe a couple people in each neighborhood who have access to such equipment could be retained, she suggested. While not advocating for every single driveway to be cleared, Harrington said there are elderly and handicapped Crookston residents or families with young children who are negatively impacted in a variety of ways when they are unable to get out of their driveway, or clear the snow so they can get out of their driveway because there’s simply too much of it and it’s too heavy.

    “It’s hard for people to do this over and over, especially when it’s so bitterly cold and the weather is this extreme,” she said. “I appreciate the City crews working hard to keep the streets clear. However, most Crookston residents work hard, too, and with much less powerful equipment.” Harrington said it would be a “great gesture of civic responsibility” for the City to try to come up with a better plan.

    Sometimes in the spring, when the snow is melting and City crews get out to scrape streets coated by snow and ice down to the pavement, the City cleared the heavy slush from the ends of driveways before it re-froze. At Large Council Member Tom Vedbraaten wondered Monday if something like that could be possible when the City deposits big chunks of compacted snow while trying to widen streets.

    Kelly said the two situations are different, and that clearing the slush takes days, not hours.

    “For us to try and do that now when people have expectations after a snowfall…are people going to want to wait for 2 1/2 days?” he said. “The first ones to (get plowed), it’s always fine and dandy, but the people at the ends of routes, it’s ‘Why the heck haven’t you showed up at my place?’”

    Kelly stressed that he has limited resources in his budget, and noted that when it comes to snow removal, this has been the most difficult winter in several years.

    Harrington said she wasn’t asking for the City to clear the ends of driveway after every snow event. “We can manage the light and fluffy stuff,” she said. “But when plows go by and leave a three-foot wall of solid, compacted snow, and I have to call someone who may not be able to come…I can’t always rely on the kindness and goodwill of my neighbors.”

    Later in the meeting, City Administrator Shannon Stassen made a point to thank the Public Works crews for rising to the occasion in the midst of so many significant snow events. “They’re putting in tons of hours,” he said. Stassen also mentioned Parks and Recreation staff who have been clearing various sidewalks and paths around town. He noted that to show their appreciation people have been bringing food and snacks to city hall.