Steamboat residents could see less city snowplowing this season due to staffing issues

Drivers were greeted by snowy, winter conditions Tuesday morning as a winter storm passes through the area bringing much-needed snow. (Photo by John F. Russell)

In a normal year, the Steamboat Springs Public Works Department employs 18 snowplowers to clear city roads in the winter months, during which the area receives about 154 inches of snow, about five times the national average.

Heading into the 2021-22 snow season, however, the city currently only has 11 full-time and five part-time snowplowers, according to Steamboat Streets Supervisor Tom Martindale.

While he is concerned about not having enough plowers as the first snow storm of the year hit the Yampa Valley floor Tuesday, Martindale said the real concern will come if the department is not fully staffed by Thanksgiving.

“A lot of times, we don’t usually get a big snow storm (until) closer to Thanksgiving, so we can get by with more of a skeleton crew” until then, Martindale said.

If the department doesn’t have its full capacity by the third Thursday in November, Martindale and Street Superintendent David Van Winkle said residents who live on side streets and cul-de-sacs will likely be the first to notice less plowing.

“What we pride ourselves on is trying to get there before you need to get up and get to work, but if we don’t have staff, you’ll likely be seeing some snow on the road,” Van Winkle told Steamboat Springs City Council members last week.

The two men said Steamboat Springs Transit, emergency vehicle routes and main roads will always be prioritized, but residents living on smaller streets and cul-de-sacs will likely see more delays in snow removal.

Roads in Steamboat Springs that receive priority when it comes to snowplowing include:

• Lincoln Avenue

• Yampa Street

• Steamboat Boulevard

• Mount Werner Road

• Fish Creek Falls Road

While emergency vehicles will still receive priority, Martindale said he is concerned about police cars, fire trucks and ambulances potentially not being able to access a cul-de-sac or smaller street due to unplowed snow.

Entry-level snow plow operators earn a salary of $23 per hour, with a 3% increase each year they return, and a $1,000 bonus at the end of the season.

“I think that we offer competitive wages,” Martindale said.

Though he also believed the wages were competitive, Van Winkle attributed the city’s inability to hire snowplow operators because the private sector offers more pay and better benefits and most operators have to commute from Craig and other parts of Routt County.

Van Winkle said most operators have to commute because of the lack of available housing options in Steamboat.

“I’m getting good applicants, but once they find that they can’t find a place to live within range, they’re just not showing up for the interview,” he said.

Facing a similar issue, Oak Creek Interim Town Administrator David Torgler said the town’s public works department — which handles snow removal issues — is understaffed by two individuals. As snow removal is a high priority, Torgler said residents could see lagging response times for other services.

Hayden, however, isn’t seeing the same issue.

Hayden Public Works Director Bryan Richards said the town isn’t facing staffing issues like Steamboat and Oak Creek because Hayden’s public employees work in multiple positions rather than specializing in one department.

“That’s one of the things I feel is really unique about Hayden is people wear a lot of hats, which is helpful in situations like that,” Richards said. “Because Hayden is a smaller community, and we don’t necessarily have the budget to have a distinct water, parks and recreation or streets department, we just have to help each other out when necessary.”

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