County Comment: County's Weather Response Timely, Efficient

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County Comment
County's Weather Response Timely, Efficient
by Norman Bassett
Washington County Public Information Officer

County Administrator Rod Shoop was up at 5am on Valentine's Day, doing something he has only had to do a few times in his 12 years in the office - closing County Government.
The County's offices were closed until noon on Wednesday, February 14, due to the 5-plus inches of snow, sleet and freezing rain that blanketed the area. Road conditions and employee safety were the contributing factors to the closing.
That did not mean County activities were at a standstill. The Highways Department, and the Department of Buildings, Grounds and Parks were busy moving the icy mess off roads, clearing parking lots and shoveling sidewalks at county buildings. Hagerstown Regional Airport maintenance crews kept the Airport open during periods when weather conditions were not below the minimum for flying.
Ed Plank, the new Director of Highways had crews out starting at midnight on Monday, all of Tuesday, all of Wednesday and through 3pm Thursday of that week, clearing the more than 800 miles of roads the County maintains. Crews plowed roads several times as snow changed to sleet and freezing rain, pulling 12-hour shifts through the period.
Weight of the frozen precipitation made plowing difficult, and took longer than usual, said Highways Administrative Assistant Diane Mongan.
"People just don't realize how difficult this plowing was, and why their road isn't completely bare," Mongan said on Thursday morning.
Washington County has 40 dump truck plows and all were in operation during the 4-day event, In addition, 18 contractors are employed during major weather events, and the County utilized 4 part-time seasonal employees to assist with plowing chores. Backhoes and front-end loaders were used to scoop up snow from tight spaces in subdivisions where large snowplows could not navigate.
Buildings, Grounds and Parks (BG&P) has the responsibility of making sure County government can operate in its offices, clearing snow and ice from parking lots and sidewalks at government buildings.
BG&P Director Jim Sterling said the department uses six pickup trucks fitted with plows, a backhoe and a skid loader, and two dump trucks to move snow. Two 3-person crews are assigned to snow removal tasks on the sidewalks at those buildings.
Parks are plowed after the buildings have been opened for business, Sterling said.
The Snow removal activities at Hagerstown Regional Airport (HGR) are different than for highways and parking lots, said HGR Manager Carolyn Motz.
Salt used for deicing highways is not "aircraft-friendly" and the chemical used for treating runways is costly. Spreading of the chemical takes place in the early stages of a snow event, to facilitate removal after the event is over.
The airport has a rotary plow that acts like a huge snow blower, to remove heavy snow and ice from runways. There are a number of heavy-duty pickup trucks fitted with plows as well as a specialty runway de-icing vehicle, and Airport personnel keep the parking lots and pedestrian pathways clean, Motz said.
During the Valentine's Day event, the airport closed during periods of freezing rain. Aircraft operations are not permitted under such conditions. When the freezing rain stopped, plowing of runways took place and the facility was open to air traffic on Wednesday.
One County activity that did not take place on Wednesday was County Commuter Transit System operations. Transportation Department Director Kevin Cerrone said that the dangerous road conditions contributed to the decision but the primary factor was passenger safety. The bus service was back in operation by Thursday, February 1515.