ST. ALBANS CITY — Two major snowstorms and the December ice storm have put strain on St. Albans City’s public works budget, but new equipment has helped to keep cost overruns to a minimum, according to the director of public works Allen Robtoy.

The public works department is also seeking the public’s help and working with the St. Albans Police Dept. to inform residents of their obligation to avoid blocking public sidewalks when clearing snow from their driveways.

The city is currently at about 80 percent of its sidewalk budget with four to six weeks of winter still to come. Public works has used about 500 tons of salt so far this winter. “We’re definitely going to go over on the salt budget,” said Robtoy.

One of the city’s other major expenses is clearing snow after the storm. In more rural areas, snow can simply be pushed off of the roadway, but in the city it must be carted away to melt after being removed from roads and sidewalks.

Historically, the city has had to hire outside truckers to do the hauling, but a new single axle truck purchased two years ago has allowed it to do much of the hauling itself, saving the city on snow removal costs, explained Robtoy.

Also reducing the cost of snow removal are two recently purchased sidewalk plows. The city purchased the first two years ago and the second this fall. The plows also double as snow blowers and are equipped with a shoot attachment for loading trucks. Utilizing the sidewalk plows has expedited the process of moving the snow, said Robtoy.

The snow is being stored at the parking lot of the former Fonda site on Lower Newton Street. “That parking lot is chock full right now,” said Robtoy.

The new sidewalk plow cost the city $130,000 with attachments. Originally, the city was going to sell the sidewalk plow it purchased in 2000, but Robtoy said he was persuaded by his staff to keep it, giving the city three sidewalk plows.

“We made a pretty substantial investment,” said Robtoy. The two new plows also have attachments for sweeping, and Robtoy told the city council at its November meeting that the plows would be used to maintain the parking garage once it’s complete.

With the new equipment the city has been able to halve the time it takes to clear the city’s 50 miles of sidewalk.

The sidewalks are not perfect, but they are “a far cry from where they’ve been in the past,” said Robtoy.

The city has been using Caliber M-1000 for melting ice in the downtown and on sidewalks near St. Albans City School. The corn derivative is better for the environment than salt, explained Robtoy but at a cost of nearly $1 a gallon the city could never afford to use it on all of the sidewalks.

Robtoy was pleased that the majority of the clean up from the recent storm was completed quickly, but said a couple of streets were to be plowed this morning, including Pearl Street.

Sidewalk hazards

Driving Pearl Street this morning, Robtoy said about every third house had snow from the driveway piled in the sidewalk, creating banks as high as seven feet.

Piles of ice and snow left to block sidewalks create a hazard for pedestrians and slow the work of the plow.

Drivers are forced to stop the plow, get off and clear the chunks of ice left behind by the private plowing, before proceeding, explained Robtoy.

Robtoy said he has met with the St. Albans Police Dept. (SAPD) about the situation, and the SAPD will begin issuing verbal warnings to offenders, with tickets to follow if they do not cease blocking the public sidewalks with snow and ice.

“I don’t like to over enforce,” said Robtoy, Most residents will stop piling snow in the sidewalk once the situation is explained to them, he added.

The city typically deals with water line breaks and leaks every winter. At this point in the winter, the public works department has usually fixed four or five leaks.

This winter has seen more than double that amount. Robtoy estimated his crews have repaired 10 to 12 leaks since mid-October.

In a normal winter, there is either a lot of snow or severe cold, said Robtoy. “This winter we’ve had a lot of both,” he observed.

City crews will be repairing leaks in two service lines this week, and removing piles of snow from the curbs of intersections at which Robtoy is concerned about sight lines for drivers. “People have got to be really careful,” he said.