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Frequent snowfalls tax cities, counties

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2014 1:15 a.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2014 2:07 p.m. CDT
(Michael Krabbenhoeft/
A truck drives along Palmyra Road where snow drifts peaked around 6 feet along the roadside and touched the bottom of road signs. Blowing snow and drifting have made it difficult for crews to keep rural roads clear.
(Michael Krabbenhoeft/
City crews remove snow from a parking lot in downtown Sterling on Tuesday afternoon.

Sterling’s snowplow drivers have already gone out 11 times this winter, and it’s only half over.

Last winter, the city deployed the drivers 16 times, and only 10 times the year before that.

“It’s been a terrible year, one storm after another,” said Rick Powers, Sterling’s public works superintendent.

Sterling is no different from other communities: It is using much more salt than expected, and its drivers are working a lot of overtime. 

In Dixon, the city has already used 85 percent of the salt that it normally orders for the year, said Jeff Kuhn, the city’s commissioner of streets. Normally, about 50 percent remains at this time of the year.

“In town, our streets are in good shape,” Kuhn said. “It would be nice to have bare pavement, but salt doesn’t work when it’s so cold. I have really been proud of our men. They were out on Christmas Day. They worked 11 hours on New Year’s Day.”

Sterling has used nearly 100 percent of the salt it normally orders for the winter, Powers said.

For the ice storm more than 2 weeks ago, the city distributed 150 tons of salt in a day, much more than the 50 to 75 tons for a typical snowstorm.

Rock Falls Mayor Bill Wescott said area cities went several years without using all of their salt, but now are burning through their reserves.

With the cold temperatures, he said, the salt will help with traction but won’t melt the snow. As such, snowpack remains on the streets, so people should slow down, he said. 

Ted Padilla, Rock Falls’ streets superintendent, said city crews have been out to plow or salt streets after hours for 20 of the 38 days since Dec. 1.

“You have a lot of tired employees,” he said, “but they’re ready to go out tonight.”

Whiteside County Engineer Russ Renner, who heads the county’s highway department, said his agency’s drivers averaged 66 hours in the past week. 

As for the overtime budget, he said: “We’ll be all right. It depends on how the rest of the year goes. We have pretty good budgeting for overtime. Most years, we don’t hit that limit.”

Dave Anderson, Lee County’s engineer, said his overtime budget would be good “if we could quit the precipitation now.”

In Sterling, Mayor Skip Lee said he is happy with the work of the city’s snowplow drivers.

“As I’ve driven around the city, things don’t look too bad,” he said. “The guys are doing a great job. This time, I received compliments about the snow removal that I haven’t received before.”

On the roads

The number of snowplow drivers at each agency:

Dixon: 10

Rock Falls: 7

Sterling: 13

Lee County: 9

Whiteside County: 12

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