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Wednesday, Dec 18 2013 06:00 AM

Freezing temps delayed snow removal

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A storm on Saturday, Dec. 7, brought about four inches of snow to the Tehachapi Valley. Below freezing temperatures through the following Wednesday turned snow to ice, creating difficulty for public officials.

Tehachapi resident Alfred Alvarado and his dog Napoleon make their way along a still-icy South Curry Street Wednesday, Dec. 11. "I moved here in 2010, so this is my first big one," said Alvarado of Saturday's storm. Gregory D. Cook / Tehachapi News

The storm that blanketed Tehachapi with roughly four inches of snow Saturday, Dec. 7, kept most residents off the streets for the day and canceled some festivities, like the annual Christmas Parade.

The "winter wonderland" created by the snowstorm quickly turned to "slippery iceland" as temperatures through the following days peaked at 32 degrees and hovered in the teens at night.

Officials from the City of Tehachapi, Stallion Springs, Bear Valley and the County of Kern cited the uncooperative post-storm conditions as the primary reason for the difficulty in keeping roads clear and safe.

"We see a storm like this probably only every three or four years," said City of Tehachapi Utility Manager Jon Curry.

City plows, of which there are four, were concentrated on main roads during the snowfall, including Tehachapi Boulevard, Curry Street, Valley Boulevard up to Tucker Road, and roads on which schools sit.

"People look out their windows and see [their street] is not plowed," Curry said. "But with the on-street parking, we simply can't do every road."

Computing the cost of labor and materials, Curry said the city spent just under $25,000 to manage the roads during and after the storm, from early Saturday morning until Thursday afternoon. Although snow removal is not budgeted as a line item, funds for the work come from the roads and maintenance fund.

Bear Valley

Icy roads were also an issue for Bear Valley Springs residents, according to General Manager Jeff Hodge.

"We approximately put 230 man hours over a course of five days into snow plowing and ice control," he said.

The CSD spent about $1,300 using 75 tons of road cinder, and about $6,700 for wages over that period, including overtime, he said.

"Last year in February, it was kind of a similar situation," he said. "It came in fast on Saturday and being so cold as it was, it just stuck to the asphalt."

Hodge said that nine snowplow trucks were sent out early Saturday morning, and once temperatures rose, all ice was completely removed by Tuesday.

To better combat similar situations with ice in the future, Hodge said the public works department is going to invest in a de-icing product known as IceSlicer, which is said to better remove ice than the usual white salt, as it creates better traction and reduces corrosion at all temperatures.

Kern County

Although Kern County already uses the IceSlicer compound, county workers still fought furiously against ice, according to Mark Evans, maintenance engineer of the Kern County Roads Maintenance Division. The substance does lower the freezing temperature of water once it is mixed in, but does not actually melt ice, he said.

"It's only effective if you already have a slush," Evans said.

The county is responsible for maintaining many roads in Golden Hills and heavily traveled routes between the city and Stallion Springs, Bear Valley, and Mojave.

Evans said road closures included Tehachapi-Willow Springs Road -- which reopened Tuesday -- and Woodford-Tehachapi Road -- which reopened Wednesday. The county decided to close the roads because of extensive ice.

Evans estimated the financial impact on the county to be as high as $20,000.

Most challenging for the county to keep clear were roads around the Cummings Valley, including Banducci Road and Pellisier Road, Evans said. Blowing winds created drifts and plow crews had trouble keeping the routes passable. For the first half of the week, only one lane on Banducci was clear of ice, causing westbound drivers to often drive in the left lane of the two-lane road.

Stallion Springs

"It was horrendous for us on Monday," said Stallion Springs General Manager Mary Beth Garrison. "Streets that were clear Monday morning were snowed under by noon...The county has been responsive, but they've had a hard time keeping up with the wind."

Garrison estimated that two dozen vehicles slid into ditches near Stallion Springs, roughly the last mile of Banducci Road, as a result of the difficult driving conditions.

By Wednesday morning enough thawing had taken place that local resident Alfred Alvarado was once again able to resume his daily walks with his dog Napoleon.

"It's been pretty icy," Alvarado said as he and Napoleon made their way along Curry Street. "I had to skip our walks the last couple of days."

He said he realized that the city has to focus on clearing the main roads first, "but a lot of people are kind of upset that they haven't gotten to their streets yet."

Once the melting began, officials from the local agencies indicated that efforts were being refocused on clearing storm drains so that water could move off the streets, hoping to avoid refreezing.

Impact on poor

Those who do not have permanent shelter sought what they could find. According to Marget Willer, director of the Tehachapi Salvation Army Center, there was a marked increase in the people coming to the Salvation Army for assistance both during and in the days after the storm.

"We normally see more of the homeless people that would usually be camping come in for assistance," she said. "But we also saw a lot of people who live in buildings not suited for the cold coming in to get jackets and blankets."

Willer also pointed out that due to the icy condition of the roads after the storm, it was challenging for her staff to get to the center to address the increased need.

Also, the Salvation Army had to suspend their kettle collection points during the storm, and Wilner said that may be the most lasting effect.

"We already have a short collection period with Thanksgiving being so late," she said. "Missing a Saturday, too, will be hard to make up for."

Schools affected

Last Saturday's storm also affected the Tehachapi Unified School District, which closed down all schools for two consecutive days as a result unsafe road and school site conditions.

Superintendent Lisa Gilbert said that it is a required by the state of California to budget for a certain amount of snow days per school year, which are scheduled based on snow averages from previous years. Students will make up the two days that they missed sometime in May, she said.

Gilbert said that although there was relatively small amount of snow, the low temperatures caused it to freeze over very quickly.

"We had custodians and maintenance staff on every campus working with tractors, shoveling, putting salt on walkways," she said. "Everyday that we either have a closure or a snow day, we have staff working their tails off to get campuses as safe as we can get them."

TUSD has to consider the weather conditions in the city of Tehachapi as well as outlying areas when making the decision to close down schools, she added.

"One of our first considerations is transportation," she said. "We work with the director of transportation, Robbi Miller, who consults with the CHP, Cal Trans, and people from Bear Valley and Stallion Springs," she said.

Gilbert said the decision was made out of concern for student safety.

"We consider the safety of students getting class to class, class to playground, and home to school," she said. "I'm just very grateful for our staff that works so hard."

EMILY BRUNETT, SCOTT CAMP AND GREGORY D. COOK contributed to this report.

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