What it takes to plow the Lakes Region

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RAYMOND — More than 700 miles of road. At least 75 trucks. Tons of salt and yards of sand that each total in the thousands. The occasional all-night shift that can stretch more than 24 hours through a single storm.

That’s a conservative and admittedly incomplete list of what it takes for the nine municipalities covered by the Lakes Region Weekly to keep roads clear during the winter.

Those towns — just as they range in size, infrastructure and geography — have varied approaches to winter maintenance.

Bridgton and New Gloucester turn exclusively to their public works departments to plow town roads. Casco and Naples don’t have public works departments and contract plowing out to private companies. Gray, Sebago, Standish, Windham and Raymond employ a wintery mix of the two.

“This is just a blades-down-and-putter-around town,” Raymond Public Works Director Nathan White said with a smile while plowing his usual route during a March 8 storm.

White, who has led the department in Raymond for about 20 years, said that his four-man crew is responsible for part of the town’s more than 50 miles of roads. The town also has a contract with P&K Sand and Gravel for 32 of those miles. While the town is responsible for some state roads like Routes 85 and 121, White said, the state plows Route 302 in town.

Despite his upbeat mood around 10 a.m. that snowy morning, White acknowledged the long hours that he and his team often put in during a storm.

White said he had been working since five o’clock the previous evening.

“It’s part of the job. I guess you sign up for it,” White shrugged. At that point he was on the sixth or seventh loop of his route, and he estimated that he’d put 230 miles on his town pickup truck during that one storm.

“And I haven’t left Raymond,” he said with a laugh.

His whole crew, himself included, lives in town, which White said helps them feel more invested in their efforts.

“These guys take a lot of pride in the work they do,” White said. “This is the best crew I’ve ever had.”

As part of his normal route that March 8 morning, White pulled into the town salt and sand facility and found several of the P&K drivers.

According to town Finance Director Cathy Ricker, the current three-year contract with P&K is $179,200 this year and rises to $184,000 in the next and final year of the deal. The town will likely exceed it’s $60,000 salt budget for the year and has spent more than $27,000 on sand at this point, Ricker said.

P&K vice president of operations Cory Mitchell said that he and White’s team are in contact a couple times per day before and throughout a storm.

“We talk pretty regularly,” Mitchell said, whose grandfather founded the Naples-based company.

P&K also has a contract to plow the 44.5 miles of roads in Naples, which Naples Town Manager John Hawley said is $266,000 this year. According to Hawley, the state is responsible for the stretches of Routes 302 and 114 in town.

Hawley said that the town has purchased 700 tons of salt and 4,400 yards of sand so far this year and budgeted $85,000 for those materials.

Casco Town Manager Dave Morton said that his town also farms out all plowing on its approximately 56 miles of road, with a $363,381 annual contract with C. Pond — a company run by Chris Pond, who also serves as the Naples Fire Chief.

Morton said that the town has spent $21,450 on salt and $68,750 on sand this year, and noted that this year’s weather has provided some challenges for the contractor.

“They’ve had it rough,” Morton said. “These storms that drag on for 24 hours — it’s tough.”

“We still plow a lot of gravel roads — and the roads have softened up already,” Morton continued, noting that it’s easy to damage soft roads. “It really has been a challenge this year.”

“We don’t seem to have a winter that stays winter,” said Bridgton Public Works Director Jim Kidder.

Kidder, in his 18th year in Bridgton with about 40 years of total experience, said that he has a crew of 13 workers in a town with 111 miles of road to plow.

Kidder said that the state plows Route 302 from Naples to the Bridgton Village and from the other end of the village to Fryeburg.

So far this year, the Bridgton operation — which includes eight plow trucks, a loader some smaller plow trucks and a sidewalk plow — has used approximately 7,000 yards of sand and 1,400 tons of salt.

“We’re getting pretty low, but we should be able to finish the year with what we’ve purchased,” Kidder said.

New Gloucester Public Works Director Ted Shane said that ice storms, especially at the beginning of the season, have taken a toll on his town’s salt and sand budget.

Shane said that he expects the town to just barely come in under the $27,500 budget for sand, but that it has already exceeded the $60,000 salt budget by $15,000 “because of all the ice storms that we had in the beginning of the year.”

Gray Public Works Director Roger Lavallee, who said he’s been plowing roads in town since he was junior in High School and his grandfather had the town’s plowing contract, said that ice storms require more salt and sand in order to keep the roads safe.

“You probably use three times the amount of material that you could in an 8-inch snowstorm,” Lavallee said about dealing with ice on the roads. He said that Gray has budgeted for more than 3,000 tons of salt at a $181,500 total and 6,000 yards of sand with a total of $24,000.

“It’s a normal winter other than the ice,” said Shane, who noted that his crew of eight full-time and one part-time staff are responsible for 72 miles of town road.

Shane said that New Gloucester’s equipment includes seven large wheeler trucks and two one-ton pickups, and added that he and his department “still do regular road maintenance every day” on top of plowing.

According to Shane, it’s normal to have one snow event per year that keeps his crew out all-night. There have been two such storms this year, he said.

“That’s harder on the crew — everybody’s tired,” Shane explained. “We actually have a lot of community support with taxpayers that bring us meals — and we are very appreciative of that,” Shane said.

New Gloucester Public Works also plows some stretches of roads for their neighboring towns — including Poland, Raymond, Gray — as part of an informal agreements in cases where it may be easier for one town crew to access the other town’s road.

“And they do the same for us,” Shane said. White described the process as hand-shake agreements to help each other out.

Standish Public Works Director Roger Mosley said that his team similarly swaps some miles with crews in Buxton and Gorham.

According to Mosley, who has been Director for 24 years and has 40 years experience plowing in town, the Town of Standish is responsible for 120 miles of plowing. He has a team of nine drivers, and the town also has two contracts with Clyde Foster and Son of Standish and Peters Construction of Buxton that total $196,335 this year.

Mosley said that the state is responsible for maintaining several roads in town, including Route 25, Route 11, Route 113 and Route 114.

Standish has three 10-wheeler plow trucks, three single-axle trucks, three pickups and a spare 10-wheeler. Mosley’s crew averages about 2.5-3 hours to complete each round of their routes, he said.

Mosley said that Standish has budgeted for 2,300 tons of salt totaling $142,140 and 7,000 yards of sand at $52,500 this year, and expects those amounts to be sufficient for the rest of the winter.

In several decades on the job, Mosley said he’s seen expectations about town plowing evolve over time.

“It’s certainly changed. The demand is greater,” Mosley said. “They want better roads, quicker.”

“It’s turned into a 24-7 society,” added Windham Public Works Director Doug Fortier.

Mosley said traffic presents one of the biggest challenges in keeping roads plowed, a concern echoed by his counterparts in Gray and New Gloucester.

“We definitely have seen an increase in traffic,” Shane said.

Lavallee said that traffic in Gray “is so much heavier now” than when he started decades ago.

“They call Gray the crossroads of Maine, and I guess there’s probably a good reason for that,” Lavallee said. Multiple state roads cut through the town, converging in the Gray Village area near Maine Turnpike exit 63.

According to Lavallee, traffic can pack the snow down and make it even harder to remove it from the 81 miles of road his department works to keep clear.

Fortier said that traffic can be a “two-edged sword,” presenting challenges in Windham but also helping in some cases to clear the roads.

“If you have traffic to work the salt around, it can help you get that last bit of salt off the road,” Fortier said about cleaning up towards the end of a storm.

Fortier said there are approximately 150 centerline miles to plow in Windham, which doesn’t factor in the mileage of roads like Route 302 in north Windham that have multiple lanes to plow. He said that the town plows all of Route 302 in Windham, while the state is responsible for almost all of the plowing on Route 202.

Of those miles, Fortier said that approximately 25-30 miles is handled by two contractors — Sumerian Irrigation and Adam Copp — with the contracts totaling $154,910 this fiscal year. The rest of the mileage is covered by 16 pieces of equipment operated by public works staff, he said.

Lavallee said that Gray Public Works has ten plow trucks, two pickups, one grader and one loader. He said there are 81 center lane miles to plow in town.

Along with the department staff of nine full-time and four part-time drivers, the town has three private contractors (William Stone Excavating and Trucking, Keith Osgood, and Earthworxs) responsible for roughly 31 miles of private roads mostly around town lakes that are plowed through public easements. The state is also responsible for plowing Route 26, Route 100 and Route 202.

“It’s really been an interesting winter,” said Lavallee, adding that drivers can spend 24-30 hours at work in the middle of a storm. “I’m pretty proud of them.”

Matt Junker can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or mjunker@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @MattJunker.

Raymond Public Works Director Nate White explained the town’s approach to plowing during a March 8 storm.

Raymond Public Works Director Nate White explained the town’s approach to plowing during a March 8 storm.

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