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City of Ferndale "priority snow routes" which get the most attention during snow events. Not shown is Slater Road between LaBounty Drive and Rural Avenue and Portal Way to just north of Grandview Road.

Challenge of keeping roads cleared of snow in Ferndale

Given our location at sea level near Puget Sound, Ferndale cannot count on seeing snow accumulations every year. Some years go by without so much as a snow flurry while others may result in several days of impacted travel and closed schools for the kids to make up later on.

This winter season has already brought the first significant snowfall in two years. It was punctuated with lasting subfreezing temperatures ensuring the inches of snowfall would stick around for days. In response, City of Ferndale (COF) Public Works (PW) crews have had the opportunity to breakout equipment and methods typically used only for such winter events.

Forecasters were able provide several days forewarning of Sunday’s winter event and PW crews took advantage. In the days prior, they were out applying deicer fluid on roads designated as “priority routes.” When the snow began falling and sticking late Sunday night, PW crews broke out the City’s 4 snow plows in the early morning hours. Their initial task was to clear the priority routes within the city limits (see graphic).

There are two levels of snow removal response according to information from the COF website. One is an immediate response which can happen at any time on any day. This is focused solely on the priority routes. The other is a standard response which occurs during regular working hours. During these times, PW crews work to keep priority routes clear and also clear other roads as time and resources allow.

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In addition to the 4 snow plows, COF has at its disposal 2 full-size sanders, 1 small sander and a skid steer with a plow.

The snow plows are equipped with rubber plates along the bottom of the blades. These serve to protect pavement markings (aka turtles), manhole covers and other fixtures that the plow could inadvertently pull up if a bare blade was skimming the road surface. As a result, plowing down to a bare surface is not an option for Ferndale snow plows.

On hills and at intersections, traction can easily become a safety issue under such conditions. Sanders are equipped to deposit a coating of a salt and sand mix. In the last two days, according to COF, they have applied approximately 70 tons of salt and sand on roads within the city limits during this recent snow event.

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While this may seem a large amount, COF has to restrict its use of salt/sand to comply with Washington State Department of Ecology requirements in response to the Federal Water Pollution Control Act. For COF to keep its stormwater discharge permit in good standing with Ecology, an effort to clean up salt and sand applied to the roads must be made to prevent it from ending up in the storm drain system. As a result, “crews work to find the right balance, applying enough sand for traction, but not more than is necessary,” according to the COF website.

Another factor with the potential to limit snow removal response is this latest winter weather event came early in the season. Each year the COF budgets a set amount of money for “Snow and Ice Control.” It is expected the amount budgeted will be sufficient to cover the response for the entire season, not just the first event.

Forecasters have warned of a higher possibility of lowland snow than was seen the last two winters during January. Perhaps this was just a practice run.

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