Area emergency managers tally costs of snow removal

Jimmy LaRoue
Contact Reporterjlarouejr@vagazette.com

Preliminary assessments from Williamsburg and James City County emergency management officials show more than $100,000 was spent on clean up after last week’s storm, which brought about 7 inches of snow and frigid temperatures to the region.

Williamsburg Fire Chief Pat Dent said the city spent about $50,000 for snow removal, while James City County’s initial damage assessment to the state came in at $55,734.50, according to county emergency manager Sara Ruch.

Virginia localities are required to provide initial damage assessments to the state’s Department of Emergency Management within 72 hours following a storm. They help determine whether a locality is eligible for reimbursement of its snow removal costs from the state.

“In that short period of time, they’re pretty rough estimates,” Dent said.

The city’s public works total includes materials and staffing costs used for snow removal.

“The other costs are just rolled in — like the fire department — to what we do every day,” Dent said.

The county’s total includes costs incurred by Williamsburg-James City County Public Schools, which has its own crew of 10 people, six plows and four broom sweepers that clear the division’s school and office parking lots and sidewalks.

“Even though it’s called a damage assessment, we also include costs from overtime and personnel, and the cost of operating vehicles related to storm response,” Ruch said.

York County did not turn in an initial damage assessment, Fire Chief Stephen Kopczynski said, because the county incurred minimal costs.

The county did not have any damage to its public facilities, Kopczynski said, and it didn’t have any extraordinary personnel costs because it used existing staff and covered additional needs with minimal overtime.

The Virginia Department of Transportation plows York County roads; the county is responsible for its own facilities, Kopczynski said.

“We were below the threshold and didn’t qualify,” Kopczynski said.

If the city is eligible for reimbursement, Dent said it will have to provide a more detailed analysis to show specifically how the city spent money to clean up from the storm.

“We’ll do what we need to do if it’s available,” Dent said.

The January 2017 storm brought 12.5 inches of snow to the region, and Williamsburg incurred similar costs, Dent said, but did not receive any reimbursement.

For the 2018 storm, city spokeswoman Lee Ann Hartman said public works crews spread 300 tons of sand and salt on the city’s 9.2 square miles of roads, and public works crews repaired seven water line breaks.

Hartman said the roads were the city’s first priority, and only after clearing roads did it get to work on sidewalks.

A big issue for the city was getting back on schedule with trash and recycling pickup. As of Friday, Hartman said the city is back to normal operations with those pickups.

The Williamsburg-James City County School Division fared well with snow removal from its schools, senior director for operations Marcellus Snipes said.

Before operation crews head out to clear school parking lots, Snipes checks with what he calls the W-JCC Weather Watchers, support staff in the school division who are spread out in different neighborhoods throughout the Williamsburg/James City County and live near the county’s 15 schools. He gets a report and photo of each of the neighborhoods and schools in those areas.

“We’re able to see, basically, (how) it looks from James River all the way to Stonehouse,” Snipes said. “So if we know that there’s snow around a school, we know that there is probably snow in all those neighborhoods. So we can piece together what it looks like.”

At that point, the operations staff begins the snow clearing process and if necessary, gets assistance from a contractor.

In the most recent snowstorm, W-JCC operations staff were out from 7 a.m. Thursday following the storm until 5 p.m. Saturday to clear snow, Snipes said.

The frigid temperatures actually helped Snipes and the operations’ crew, he said. Knowing cold temperatures were going to remain for several days following the snow, he said they knew they had at least four days to clear the snow from school properties, and they got help from the county’s grounds maintenance.

“Typically, that cost for us is over $100,000 if we use a contractor,” Snipes said. “The crew actually saved the taxpayers and the school division between $100,000 to $120,000 by clearing it ourselves. And that’s because we had the time to do it.”

The cold snap didn’t help Williamsburg’s public works crews as much.

“If we have a significant snow, it typically warms up and it’s gone in a couple of days,” Dent said. “Obviously, the challenges of extremely cold temperatures created hazardous road conditions longer that it typically would for this area.”

LaRoue can be reached by phone at 757-345-2342, by email at jlarouejr@vagazette.com or on Twitter @jlaroue.

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