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Lansing Highway Department Snow Plow

School was out, the roads were closed, and people generally enjoyed a day or two off last week when about 18 inches of snow piled up in Lansing.  But the Lansing Highway Department crew  had the opposite experience -- it was their busy time, clearing the roads and making sure that emergency vehicles could get where they needed to go.  Highway Superintendent Charlie 'Cricket' Purcell told the Lansing Town Board Wednesday that last week's storm cost the Town about $61,000, and reported that keeping the town's roads clear went smoothly as his crew worked around the clock to plow Lansing's roads.

"Our little snow storm that we had last week was nothing really extraordinary," Purcell said.  "It cost around $61,000.  About 25% or that was labor, 55% is the cost to run and maintain our equipment, and around 20% was our materials, the salt and grit we use.  We had between 16 and 18 inches of snow.  By today's standards that's a rough event, because we haven't really had much like that in a long time, but we certainly handled it in good fashion."

The Lansing Highway Department is held in high regard for its maintenance of town roads.  Purcell says keeping the roads clear for emergencies is a prime priority.

'"If there's an emergency situation we make sure they can get an ambulance out," he says.  "That's always been my main concern, of course, with the other side of the family being tied to the emergency services (Purcell's brother Scott is Lansing Fire Department Chief).  My main goal is to be sure that we can do the best that we can do for people.  That's always been my concern, that in the middle of the night if there's an emergency we can do everything in our power to make the outcome as good as we can for somebody."

Part of what made the plowing go smoothly was keeping traffic off the roads. Tompkins County Sheriff Ken Lansing ordered the roads closed from 3pm on Tuesday to 6am Wednesday, freeing the roads so plows could do their work unhindered.   Purcell was also in communication with School Superintendent Chris Pettograsso well before the snow started falling, and Pettograsso made the call to close the schools Monday during the day earlier than usual before the snow started falling.

"My people handled it in stride.  Over the years we've certainly dealt with worse.  It's stressful and a lot of work when it continues to come.  It helps a little bit when the Sheriff shuts down the road.  I had great communication with Chris Pettograsso, trying to keep everybody safe."

For her part, Pettograsso maintained communication with the community during the storm, and her team reviewed their decisions Friday to analyze what went well, and what could be improved upon.

"We were very concerned with childcare options for our families that typically use the childcare program in Lansing," she says.  "We did have scheduled childcare on Friday but not on Thursday.  It is typical for the program to close when school is closed which by nature of past practices caused the program to close Thursday.  In hindsight, it would have been beneficial for us to open the program at least for a half-day.  After speaking with Ron Frost, the director of the program, we agreed that we can do that in the future.  However, it is very rare (has not occurred at least in the last 10 years) that we have called faculty and staff in on a school closing."

On the Monday before the storm Pettograsso told the school board there was some wiggle room for snow days in the schedule, and she did not anticipate having to add school days during the upcoming vacation period.  Pettograsso confirmed yesterday that April vacation days are not needed in Lansing, so families can rest assured their plans won't be impacted.

"We are all set!" Pettograsso says.  "A lot of other schools are getting into taking April vacation days and it's not a pretty scene.  Cricket was awesome and has a good understanding and care for the diversity of drivers on the road (students/ bus drivers etc).  Our community members sent many messages of support and understanding as well"

Plenty of salt and grit is stored at the Lansing Highway Department, ready to be loaded onto plow trucks whenever needed

Ten trucks kept the town's 93 miles of  roads clear last week in two shifts.  Additionally a front end loader kept the trucks loaded with salt and grit.  Joining the day shift this year were the Recreation Department's Pat Tyrrell and John Howe, both of whom qualified for Commercial Drivers Licenses so they can help out when needed.

"The majority of the guys worked from 3am to 7 or 8 pm," Purcell said.  "Then the nigh crew takes over.  We run a skeleton crew at night, but we keep a truck at three different points in the town to keep people in good shape."

Plow trucks also dropped about 300 pounds of salt and 200 pounds of grit on town and county roads within town boarders.  The County contracts with the town to plow its Lansing roads, specifying that just salt be used.  On town roads a mixture of salt and grit is used.  Purcell says the town used to use a salt and sand mix, but he and then Superintendent Jack French determined they could save about $12,000 per winter by using 1B stone instead.

While $61,000 seems like a lot of money to spend on one storm, Purcell says that is anticipated and budgeted for.  The department some of that back with its county plowing contract.

"We're still within budget parameters where we should be," he said.  "If we had four or five of these storms it would change the outlook.  But it's all budgeted for, and it went well.  I give all the folks that work for me a nod.  They're go-getters and stay at it."

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