Letter To The Editor: Awakened By Hideous Noise

Editor’s Note: The County’s response to this issue is published below this letter.
Los Alamos

Dear Councilors,

I was awakened from sleep sometime around 4 a.m. by a hideous metallic scraping and rumbling noise. Thinking that Russian tanks might have been invading the County as the result of some kind of deal hatched by our president, I sprang out of bed in alarm just in time to hear my dogs barking furiously at the din.

I quickly realized the sound wasn’t from an enemy invasion, but instead was the sound of a metal snowplow blade scraping along dry asphalt. Although there was only about 1/32nd of an inch of snow on the ground, I could see the plow making its way noisily down the road in front of my house. I listened to the sound trail off as it turned onto Diamond drive and continued to scrap dry pavement elsewhere in the County.

It is well known that snowplowing and keeping the streets clear requires extra budgeting in terms of equipment and man-hours. I have to wonder whether scraping dry asphalt when there is barely a dusting of snow on ground is a good use of taxpayer money, particularly at a time when the County leadership is quick to remind us citizens that the County is on the verge of bankruptcy and that they only way we can continue to operate our recreational facilities is by raising user fees? Without hyperbole, I suspect that this morning’s pavement scraping exercise probably cost as much as operating the Aquatic Center or Golf Club for a week, and the ice rink for maybe two.

I ask you: Is plowing dry roads really the best and highest use of taxpayer money, and County staff and equipment?

You’ve probably already guessed my answer to this rhetorical question.

Our County is suffering from a failure of leadership. You are the people who can correct this, and I urge you to do so.

Thanks for your consideration.

Response from Dan Erickson
County Traffic and Streets Manager

In response to the editorial published in the LA Daily Post, I called Mr. Rickman to discuss his concerns in more detail. I explained to Mr. Rickman that trucks were mobilized this morning primarily to spread salt and scoria to mitigate slick roadway conditions. I then explained that staff has been advised not to lower plows unless necessary, especially in cases where there is very little snow to be removed. This being said, staff has been given the latitude to use their best judgement not only during snow removal operations, but during most operations concerning Traffic and Street operations and maintenance.

We have a truly remarkable staff and we want our employees to think their actions through, not blindly follow orders that may or may not be appropriate for the given situation. Ultimately, unless it is obvious staff is being negligent, decisions made by filed crews will be supported by management. Mr. Rickman seemed to understand this point of view and indicated that the plow noise really wasn’t the issue, he was more concerned with the expenditure of tax dollars to move very little snow and the environmental impact associated with the salt being spread on the roadway as a deicer.

I did not disagree with Mr. Rickman’s concerns. Consequently, a discussion regarding the delicate balance of a community where many residents have become accustom to responsive snow removal operations verses folks that believe driving in snow is part of mountain living ensued. I was called by the Los Alamos County Police dispatch at approximately 3:30am concerned with slick roadways on Barranca Mesa – a public safety concern. Fortunately, a skeleton crew (2 employees) were scheduled to arrive at work at 4:00am based on the most recent weather forecasts. Experience has shown that early season snow storms, even small storms, can be the most treacherous typically due to the roadway being relatively warm. With relatively warm roadways, snow will melt initially and as the temperature drops the precipitation will freeze causing slick driving conditions.

The conversation then migrated to the environmental concerns associated with deicing operations. The use of deicers is not only a concern of Mr. Rickman’s, it’s a concern nationally recognized especially in mountain communities. Just last week, key Traffic and Streets staff met with vendors to discuss products and techniques that will not only be more environmentally friendly, but will ultimately be more economical. Sodium Chloride can be hard on vegetation and is actually not as effective as other products on the market; therefore, the County discontinued the use of sodium chloride deicers several years ago. The County currently uses a product that while not the cheapest, has been rigorously tested on vegetation and is accepted as one of the most environmentally friendly products on the market. The County is continuously reassessing their deicing operations and evaluating new products and technologies, typically through vendor presentations and conference attendance.

Ultimately, this was a good conversation. The County as an organization welcomes the viewpoint of the town’s citizens and embraces the opportunity to educate the community on its operations.


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