Heavy snowfall, equipment problems kept North Bend on snowy streets following Dec. 9 storm

Most North Bend residents don’t need reminders that a lot of snow fell on their city Dec. 9, since a lot of it is still on the ground. An unexpectedly heavy snowfall Friday, followed by unusually cold temperatures the following week resulted in frozen piles of snow along roadsides well into this week.

There are several reasons the snow hasn’t vanished as fast as it fell, and the first is that it was falling fast.

“It was a blizzard all day Friday,” said North Bend Public Works Director Mark Rigos. “It was (falling at) an inch an hour.”

It was also the most snow the city had seen since 2011.

The city’s two full-sized and one half-sized plow (a pickup truck with a small blade attached) were unable to keep up with clearing the main roads as the snow continued to fall. Drivers would finish a push down the top-priority roads, North Bend Way and Bendigo Boulevard, then circle back to replow them because they were filling in again.

“We had people working all night,” Rigos said.

They couldn’t do much more to help drivers, either. “If you put sand down, it doesn’t help because it gets covered over in an hour,” Rigos said.

North Bend does not use de-icer chemicals, which can help to prevent snow from sticking to city streets.

Snowfall total reports ranged from 11 to 14 inches of snow in various neighborhoods. Rigos didn’t have an exact figure for North Bend’s total, but said “I do know for a fact that North Bend got more snow than Snoqualmie.”

Another blow to the city crew’s efforts was the breakdown of two of the three plows. First, the full-sized 1993 plow broke a part and had to be pulled from the roads for repairs on Friday afternoon.

“This city is too big to have just one and a half plows, said Rigos. “We need our equipment to be dependable and reliable. That didn’t happen Friday or Saturday, and I apologize for that.”

A few hours later, the truck attached to the half plow also developed a problem, leaving one plow, a 2009 purchase, working, but only on the highest-priority roads.

Even if all the plows had been working, though, the result would have been similar. “When it’s snowing heavily, there’s no real chance at all that we’re getting to priority four routes,” Rigos said.

The city may look at changing its snow response in the future, for example, by adding de-icer to road sanders, but Rigos noted that it’s a challenge to balance the unknown needs with current budgets.

“It was a big storm, we don’t get those every month, we don’t get those even every year,” he said. “It doesn’t make sense to spend money on things we only need every five years… the key is finding the right amount of coverage to handle these storms.”

Luckily, he added, North Bend is largely flat, which helped to keep driving conditions safer.

Overtime costs from this snowstorm are estimated at a few thousand dollars, Rigos said, which is substantially less then the costs the city incurred a year ago in worker overtime to address multiple flooding events last November and December.

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