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Monday, May 2, 2016

Monett Street Department crews are ready, willing and able to combat winter snow and ice

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Ready for snow removal duty, Richard Heller from the Monett Street Department stands next to the 2005 International truck he drives during the winter to keep Monett streets clear. Heller will mark his 15th anniversary with the city in May. [Times Photo by Murray Bishoff]
Winter is coming. While most people may prepare by digging out a scraper or shaking a fist at the blustery sky, the Monett Street Department has taken action.

Last Wednesday crews even sprayed the Centennial Overpass bridge with Geomelt, the beet juice melting product that helps prevent ice buildup as colder weather rolled into the area.

"The city has always made snow removal a pretty high priority," said Russ Balmas, street superintendent.

Balmas has prepared for winter weather for months. He usually orders salt for streets in July to get the better price. He has the city's usual stockpile of 600 tons of salt, the average of use in recent years, safely in hand, adding to the amount left over from the previous year. A store of 150 tons is kept at the street barn at Sixth and Front and the rest is held at the old pole yard next to South Park.

Heavy use of salt over an extended number of weeks can deplete even the city's supply. Balmas said in 2008 the city had to buy 200 tons more to get through the season in February.

The other major tools for battling weather include a 4,000-gallon stockpile of liquid calcium, 3,000 gallons of Geomelt and converting the fleet of department trucks into snow moving machines.

On a bad weather night, street department crews roll into the night in six trucks. One 16-ton truck heads for the outside loop around town. The four eight-ton trucks do the biggest portion of the street spraying and snow removal on major streets. The half-ton truck in the fleet concentrates on parking lots and smaller spaces.

"An eight-ton truck can go through two or three loads per night in a bad storm," Balmas said. "A typical load will have about 16 to 20 gallons of liquid calcium mixed in to activate it in lower temperatures," Balmas said.

This year, the street department acquired two new trucks, which take the place of two 20-year old trucks. Balmas expects the fleet to operate better with the new additions.

It could take as long as half a day to dress the older trucks for combat. Crews take off the tail gate, install the V-box and spreader in the rear, hook up the electrical and hydraulic systems and mount the plow blade on the front. Using a different design, the new trucks can be prepared in a couple hours. The old spreaders had to hang on chains in the garage. New spreaders set on a stand on the V-box. A truck can drive over the unit for installation.

"We don't get in a hurry getting the trucks ready," Balmas said. "If we do, someone gets hurt. We believe in taking our time and doing it right the first time."

On a storm night, the first man in gets into the truck that spreads the Geomelt and hits the bridges. Then he returns and heads out in one of the regular trucks.

Geomelt, now in its third year of use, may be the newest tool in the city's arsenal, but the crews have gotten good at using it.

"We've been to a couple of seminars on using Geomelt," Balmas said. "The company that makes it said we're way ahead of other cities. They're using us as an example for other towns."

The trick with much of the melting agents is to get it under the snow and ice. Geomelt in particular will treat the surface for an extended period. Balmas said crews can return to properly treated streets a half hour later and scoop up snow easily. Freezing rain becomes a harder challenge. Winters that bring one wave of precipitation after another for consecutive weeks eat up the ice melting supplies. Balmas and his team stay at it, as long as it takes, restocking as needed.

Balmas's crews have become an equally important ingredient in the battle.

"The majority of my guys have been here 10 years plus," Balmas said. "Larry Mitchell has been here over 15 years. Travis White has been here over 30. Each man runs the same routes. Every area has its hot spots, whether it's a bridge, a hill or a stop sign. They get to know their sections, where the manholes and bad spots are. When they know the routine, it sure makes it easier on everybody."

Balmas has two crews of six men each. They run snow removal in 12-hour shifts, always using the same trucks. At the end, they can report to their replacements how the equipment runs and what kind of trouble they have end, much like report for a medical shift change.

"If there's heavy snow, we get the main thoroughfares first," Balmas said. "Once they're caught up, we go to the secondary streets. If it keeps coming down, we stay on the main thoroughfares. We keep the police, fire, ambulance and hospital routes always open."

This year MoDOT has planned to spend less time clearing secondary state highways to save money. Balmas did not expect to see any change in Monett. Primary state routes of Highways 60, 37, Business 60 and Highway H bisect the town and have to stay cleared.

"If we see a bad spot on one of the state's routes, we'll get it in passing. Anything that's in the city limits, we'll hit it," Balmas said.

In October Balmas's crew does a winter run-through.

"You don't want to wait till it's snowing to order parts," Balmas said. "We dressed everything last week, kind of a fireman's drill. The new trucks we can dress and undress in half the time.

"I think we've got all the equipment we need," Balmas said. "The new trucks are as good as it gets. We're ready."

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