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What do you do when Mother Nature doesn’t cooperate with your plans? If you’re employees of the City of Minot Street Department or the Sanitation Department, you adapt. You go to Plan B. Or Plan C. Or whatever it takes.
Snow events are extremely busy times for employees in Public Works. In 2019, we found out what happens when there’s a snow event during the City’s annual fall cleanup week. And what we learned is that various departments will band together, as expected, to do whatever needs to be done.
First, let’s go back in time a bit:
The week of Oct. 7-11, 2019, was scheduled to be the City’s fall cleanup week, where residents can place unwanted items on the curb and crews from the Street Department, with some assistance from other departments, will remove the items. Tires, trees, old appliances, old furniture…you name it, they’ll pick it up.
“We drop everything to help,” said Street Superintendent Kevin Braaten. “Generally we’re manning the rear-loading trucks, we have three or four pickups with two-man crews picking up appliances, and we have a crew that runs a front-end loader and uses a roll-off container to take care of bigger stuff like couches. We have some help from other departments, but our crews do most of the heavy lifting.”
Oct. 11-12 was also the fall household hazardous waste and E-waste collection at Public Works, where City sanitation customers can bring unwanted items like used oil, old paints and stains, propane tanks, and computer parts to the Public Works building. For users, the HHW and E-waste collection is simple: Drive into the Public Works building, open your vehicle doors, watch the crews unload your items, and drive out the door. It’s a bit more complicated for the crews, who separate and sort the items and help make sure they’re disposed of properly.
“Since we were doing the household hazardous waste event that week, too, that meant we had to move our equipment outside and clean up our shop area,” Braaten said. “That keeps us busy, too.”
Yes, the fall 2019 collection week was shaping up to be a busy week.
And then it snowed.
“October is supposed to be when you start thinking you need to clean up the garage or the yard a little bit to get ready for winter,” said Sanitation Superintendent Josh Kraft. “October is not supposed to be ‘Bring on winter!’ ”
The week began normally. On Monday and Tuesday, the Street Department crews handled the cleanup week collection as usual. The Sanitation Department drivers did their normal garbage collection routes on Monday and Tuesday, then pitched in to help with the cleanup week duties.
The normalcy didn’t last long. On Wednesday, with a forecast of snow on the way, things changed. Time for Plan B.
“We lost the Street Department on Wednesday because with talk of snow coming, they had to get their equipment ready,” said Kraft. “It was a pretty obvious situation and snow had to be a priority for them. People were asking what would happen to the fall clean-up, and we told them that it might take us a little longer, but we would finish the job.”
“Josh understands that our snow removal duties come first, and then when we were done, we’d come back to help with the clean-up week,” Braaten said. “But we had to have our personnel focused on snow removal.”
With Street Department crews working to make sure their equipment was prepared for snow removal, the Sanitation Department crews continued with clean-up week duties.
Sanitation crews worked into the late afternoon on Wednesday. On Thursday and Friday, those crews finished their regular garbage collection routes as quickly as possible, then turned their attention to collecting clean-up week items.
“They worked past 6:30 p.m. on both Thursday, and Friday,” Kraft said. “It was all hands on deck.”
Those extra hands came from a lot of different departments, including employees from the landfill, water department, the cemetery staff, waste water workers, and the water treatment plant.
“Anyone who had extra people pitched in the best they could,” Kraft said. “It takes a team to do this, from cemetery to street to the water department. It was really good to see everyone come together.”
Meanwhile, Street Department crews were preparing for and dealing with an early dose of snow. Thankfully, the storm didn’t dump as much snow as earlier predicted. Still, what did fall had to be moved.
“A lot of the snow in the middle of the streets melted pretty quickly, but we had to move the rest of it off to the side of the street,” Braaten said. “We worked hard to get all our blades equipped with snow gates, but we would have run the blades without the gates if necessary because there wasn’t that much snow.”
By the end of Friday, the vast majority of the fall clean-up items had been picked up, although Street Department crews did work on the following Monday to pick up anything left over. After Friday, most of the snow had been moved to the curb, and in some locations in Minot, street sweepers were dispatched to continue their annual fall work.
By the end of Saturday, the household hazardous waste collection event was also completed, as scheduled.
It all made for a strange week.
“This is the first time something like this has happened. In the end, everything worked out fine, but it’s something I’d rather not have happen again,” Kraft said. “We might have to have fall clean-up in July just to make sure the weather is good.”
In retrospect, Kraft and Braaten aren’t surprised things went as smoothly as they did, despite the massive curveball from Mother Nature.
“Josh and I were in constant communication. He knew what I needed to do and I gave him personnel when it was possible,” Braaten said. “It was frustrating, but everyone handled it well. I think our superintendents are all on the same page. We have a great team at Public Works.”