Q&A with South Lake Tahoe snowplower
January 25, 2017
Take one look at a community Facebook page like "Voice of South Lake Tahoe" and you will find a slew of comments complaining about snowplow drivers and the dreaded berms.
The city is responsible for clearing 259 lane miles of roadways on the South Shore, while the rest of the streets and highways fall under the jurisdiction of Caltrans and El Dorado County — but it's been no easy task even with three agencies hard at work. Back to back storms in January have brought the snowpack up to the average springtime — April 1 — maximum, the National Weather Service in Reno reported.
This week the Tahoe Daily Tribune caught up with Azril Kalik, city maintenance manager, to find out what it's really like working to clear roadways after a series of severe storms.
How long have you been a snowplow operator?
Twelve years with the city, nine years with a local ski resort for a total of 21 years.
When is the last time you saw this much snow in South Lake Tahoe?
The most recent event coming close to this is in 2010 when my then 6-year-old daughter yelled "Daddy watch!" and walked on top of the snow and over my fence, which is 6 feet tall.
What has your workload been like since this series of storms hit the basin?
We're working 24/7 with 12 hours each shift. We as a department have had three days off since New Years. Reportedly, we have gotten 16 feet of snow since Jan. 1. When the storms hit this much this fast then we are in constant go mode. We put our heads down and go, go, go.
What challenges do you face with snowplowing in South Lake Tahoe?
The guys I work with are amazing. It really takes a lot of a skill to move a 46,000-pound plow with 16 controls that need to be operated mostly simultaneously down a street filled with people, cars, animals, trashcans, and, yes, even the dreaded mailboxes.
What could residents of South Lake Tahoe do to make your job easier?
If the residents could do anything to help it would be to please remember that we all live here, too. This is not an "us against them" situation. We are your neighbors, family and friends. We can't stop the snow coming or the berms from happening — it's just the way it is. But if they would move the cars off the streets when we are plowing and make sure that their mailboxes and trashcans are pulled back out of the right of way, it would help us work that much faster and get the roads cleared that much sooner.
A lot of people have taken to Facebook to complain about the berms in front of their driveways. Could you explain what causes these?
The blades on the plows are 14 feet wide and the gate is approximately 3 feet long and only 18 inches tall. The gate just can't, no matter what we do, hold back 14 feet of snow spilling over and around the gate into clear areas, which unfortunately when plowing is usually someone's driveway. The gate helps minimize the berm but it will not eliminate it.
How do you decide what streets to plow and when?
The patterns have been refined and polished beginning in 1965 when the city was established. It has been set up in a way that there is no wasted motion or time. Once you put the blade down you're plowing the whole time.
We plow all the streets when there is an average of 3 inches of snow citywide. Prior to this we'll mobilize a plow/sander truck to cover a designated sanding route. If it continues to snow, we stop sanding and begin plowing primary roads citywide until we mobilize the motor graders for full coverage on every street citywide until the storm stops and the roads are at full width.
What's the best part about your job?
The best part of my job would be the constant changing environment and the challenges and success. These storms have been a definite stress on the town as a whole, but when the guys get in and open roads for police and fire or city and school buses, and we know we made the roads safer to drive on, it makes the stress worth it.
Anything else you'd like to add?
We have a great staff and they work hard to provide safe roads and public safety for law enforcement, fire, EMS vehicles, school buses, refuse trucks and the general public.
Thank you for your patience and check out the city's website for more information regarding snow removal at http://www.cityofslt.us/snow.