WAFF 48 Investigates: The cost of a winter storm - WTVM.com-Columbus, GA News Weather & Sports

WAFF 48 Investigates: The cost of a winter storm

The snow was enough cripple entire cities. The dozens of closed roads and accidents added up to long hours for emergency responders. The snow was enough cripple entire cities. The dozens of closed roads and accidents added up to long hours for emergency responders.
HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) -

You can't control MotherNature, but you can control how much money is spent in the aftermath of awinter storm. Last week, city, county and state leaders spent more than$500,000 in North Alabama alone.

We wanted to break down those costs andinvestigate whether there's a more efficient way to do business.

The snow was enoughcripple entire cities. The dozens of closed roads and accidents added up tolong hours for emergency responders.

"It becomes a financialissue as far as overtime," said Chief of Operations for HEMSI, DonWebster.

The overtime equates toplenty of your tax dollars. $120,000 was spent in the city of Huntsville alone,according to city leaders. That includes everything from labor to equipment andmaterials like salt and sand used on the roads.

So what about using yourtax dollars for larger equipment like a snow plow?

We asked Huntsville MayorTommy Battle, "Would it be more cost effective to buy a bigger piece ofequipment and in turn reduce labor costs?"

"Well our snow is soseldom here that we use our scrapers," said Mayor Battle.

Huntsville has just twoscrapers (also referred to as a grader.) Along with the snow and ice, thosescrapers scraped off hundreds of street reflectors. The reflectors each costabout $5, not including the labor to re-install them.

We did some research and foundthat the average costof a plow attachment for a pickup costs less than $2,000.  Unlike the scrapers Huntsville currentlyuses, many plows are guaranteed not to leave problems in their wake.

By our math, every 300reflectors not scraped up would more than pay for a plow attachment. The moreplows, the quicker the roads are back open.

Huntsville already has twoof the plow attachments, so again we wanted to know, why not get more?

We went straight to theman in charge of the heavy equipment, Public Works Director Terry Hatfield toask about the logic of using scrapers. He says the scrapers are one of the onlypieces of equipment the city has to remove ice.

When we showed Hatfieldour math, he agrees that it all adds up. He said department engineers arelooking into the costs and will consider purchasing more of the plows attachments.

We wanted to take thisstory a step further. After all, your tax dollars also pay for state roads. Ifound the price tag is much higher for the Department of Transportation (DOT.)

To cover just over 1,600miles of highways and interstates during the snow event, it cost north of$500,000.

"It takes a lot ofmoney to run a business, and this is basically the business of keeping ourroads and streets safe for the motoring public," said DOT DivisionEngineer Johnny Harris.

Harris said it doesn'ttake much to go over the allotted snow fund of $434,000, which means the stateis forced to reach in other pockets.

"If you spend yourmoney on removing snow and ice, that's just a dollar you can't repair aguardrail with or place a new sign someplace," he said.

But Harris, just like cityleaders, said dollars have to come into play. He said events like this are soinfrequent that it's simply not worth the cost of larger equipment.

"Don't need to putthat money into equipment that we know we aren't going to get a whole lot ofuse out of on a regular basis," said Harris.

So that begs the questionwhat is a "regular basis?" According to NOAA, in the last 10 years,North Alabama has had about two dozen snow events

The costs don't go awayonce the snow melts. Snow weakens the quality of the roads and requires streetsto need additional maintenance sooner.

Huntsville utilities alsoincurred snow related costs. The last round of winter weather forced thepurchase of 10 new power poles, and a lot of overtime for utility workers,equaling $128,000.

Of course all of the totals don't include lostwages for workers who couldn't get to work because of unplowed roads or lostrevenue for businesses that couldn't open because of unplowed roads.

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