Council hears update on snow removal, gas purchase

It has been a main topic of discussion for a week now, and Tuesday night’s Fulton City Council meeting was no exception as the council was updated on the city’s snow removal efforts after the Feb. 1 blizzard.

“Where do you want me to start?” city engineer Greg Hayes asked as he prepared to give his report.

“With a big thank you first,” Ward 2 Alderman John Pautz responded. “You did a good job.”

That thank you was echoed by other council members as the entire room broke out into applause.

“Take that back and clap for the guys tomorrow,” Director of Administration Bill Johnson instructed Street Supervisor Gary Felkner.

Hayes told the council Fulton’s street department employees “had their hands full” trying to keep up with the winter storm that started with sleet and ice Monday and continued through Tuesday night, ultimately dumping almost two feet of snow on area roadways. He said that by Wednesday morning, most of Fulton’s streets had at least one lane cleared.

“On Wednesday we probably had a half-dozen streets that were overlooked. We identified those, and those were probably the most difficult to plow because they had 20 inches of snow on them,” Hayes said. “We apologize for blocking driveways, but our initial step is to get the roads open.”

Felkner said his crews worked non-stop Tuesday to make sure at least the main roads were passable.

“We never shut down,” he said. “Even in the 14 inches, we kept going, we were out plowing.

“Everybody was willing to stay and fight the snow — we didn’t want to leave anybody stuck.”

To that end, the city utilized not just its three large snow plows and four bladed pickup trucks — one of which died — but also equipment from other departments as well, including backhoes and front-end loaders from both the sewer plant and the landfill.

“We used every piece of equipment that was capable of moving snow,” Johnson said.

Hayes said Fulton road crews — supplemented by employees from other departments — had two lanes open on approximately 85 percent of the city’s roads. Their next task was to create access to mail boxes and city-maintained walkways. The airport was plowed on Thursday as well.

“We are continuing to work to clear everything,” he said.

He and Felkner continued to receive accolades from council members.

“I just thought (the job you did) was wonderful,” Ward 1 Alderman Mike West said. “I commend everybody that was involved.”

One issue that was brought up was individuals who shoveled snow from their driveways into the street and people who had left cars parked in the street making it difficult or impossible to completely clear roadways.

Johnson pointed out the city does not currently have an ordinance regarding snow plowing or snow emergencies. He suggested that in such situations parking not be allowed on both sides of the street, with the side on which it is allowed to alternate on even and odd days so as to be more conducive to getting streets cleared. The council plans to revisit the issue in the future.

On another weather-related note, Johnson said the record snow is making it difficult to read local utility meters, noting “we physically can’t get into yards and we physically can’t get to meters.”

“Our current plan is all commercial customers will have their meters read,” he said. “We’ve gotten many residential meters, but we’re going to have to estimate some of them for the bill that goes out at the end of February.”

In other business, Johnson informed the council the city had not made the five-year gas purchase members had approved at the Jan. 25 meeting.

“The reason is because it would have meant a mandatory rate increase,” Johnson said. “We had figured it out so that we would not have to do that, but when we actually went to market, everyone tended to be comfortable for two years. If you got out much further traders were adding significant, significant premiums.”

To help address the issue, Utilities Superintendent Darrell Dunlap said the city is working on a deal with TEA — a natural gas management and trading service provider — to set up a financial security agreement that would allow the city to make the larger purchase, thereby locking in current low prices for the long term.

“That may take a week to three weeks to set up,” Dunlap said.

Before that deal is complete, Johnson and Dunlap said they would like to purchase a trial amount of gas from TEA to make sure that company is able to transfer the gas to Fulton. The council agreed to that plan.

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