PITTSFIELD -- City employees and hired plowing contractors began battling a steady snowstorm late Wednesday and expect to keep their trucks on Pittsfield streets through Saturday morning.
"Things have been running well," Commissioner of Public Utilities Bruce Collingwood said Thursday evening. "We now have the staff working 12 hours on, 12 off, for the duration of the storm, with the trucks running around the clock."
The first major snowstorm of the winter started off as a typical one, Collingwood said, with light, dry snow and temperatures too cold to produce icy conditions on the road surfaces.
"Temperatures will be a big issue from here on," he said, referring to expected continued snowfall through this morning amid thermometer readings near or below zero.
"Heavier snow also is expected to kick in tonight, with maximum accumulation in our area," he said Thursday afternoon.
Winds will grow stronger, according to forecasts, the commissioner said, and "drifting snow will prolong the finish line, so to speak." That could mean at least some plow crews will be still at work on Saturday afternoon.
A complicating factor this season was the recent suspension of three highway department workers after an investigation led to their arrests. They face charges in Central Berkshire District Court related to the alleged theft of diesel fuel and other materials from the city.
Collingwood said he also had two employee vacancies in the highway department at that time, although he now has clearance to fill those positions and will place advertisements. To cover for the suspended employees and the vacancies, he said workers from other departments and a retired foreman have agreed to help out.
"They've really stepped up," he said.
A shortage of road sand that developed after the city's principal local supplier stopped producing "washed sand" this year quickly abated after an article in The Eagle on the problem, Collingwood said. He said a number of suppliers contacted his office, and the result was a per-ton price below what the city had been paying for sand.
Pittsfield has 100 miles of road and street surface to plow, or 200 miles of travel lanes. To attack that during a storm, Collingwood said, about 35 private contractors assist the city crews, primarily in clearing residential streets. The smaller private contractors are assigned specific routes, Collingwood said, so they can learn how best to clear those streets and what residents generally expect.
One contractor has a large plowing vehicle, he said, similar to the six the city owns. Those vehicles plow on main plowing routes in the city.
A salt and sugar production byproduct mix the city is using this year is effective on treated roads longer than salt alone. "But temperature can be an issue, even with the hybrid salt," he said, as wind chills could plunge well below zero today.
The highway department is on budget for winter storms, he said, with the current snowfall fairly typical in terms of cost. "This is probably a $50,000 storm," Collingwood said, including paying the private contractors, overtime for city workers and materials and equipment costs.
To reach Jim Therrien:
or (413) 496-6247
On Twitter: @BE_therrien