Athol DPW handles “blizzard conditions” over weekend

A plowing loader clears roads in Athol during Sunday’s snowstorm, which dropped approximately 12 inches onto the area.

A plowing loader clears roads in Athol during Sunday’s snowstorm, which dropped approximately 12 inches onto the area. PHOTO CREDIT/DICK KILHART

Public Works Director Dick Kilhart said crews worked in “blizzard conditions” during Sunday’s snowstorm.

Public Works Director Dick Kilhart said crews worked in “blizzard conditions” during Sunday’s snowstorm. PHOTO CREDIT/DICK KILHART

By GREG VINE

For the Athol Daily News

Published: 01-08-2024 3:39 PM

ATHOL – The storm this past weekend threw public works crews a bit of a curve, giving the impression it had mostly petered out by noontime Sunday before slamming the region with heavy blowing snow in the mid-afternoon.

“With the exception of it being a long-duration event,” said Public Works Director Dick Kilhart, “things went pretty well.”

Kilhart said the two-act nature of the storm kept crews busy for quite a few hours.

“If you watched the weather reports,” he said, “people in other regions seemed to have much, much more than we did, at least initially. By 6 a.m. Sunday morning, into the early part of the morning, we might have had four or five inches, which is manageable. Then there was quite a bit of a lull until we got to the early part of the afternoon. Then it was, gosh, I’m going to say it was like blizzard conditions around here. I don’t know what the snow rate was per hour, but it was building up faster than we could plow it.”

Kilhart said once plows clear roadways in a specific area of town, it is generally another four to six hours before they return for another pass.

“They each have those routes set up in advance,” he explained, “unless, for some reason, they have an issue where they’ve got to get people off the road, or the Fire Department calls, and they need to make sure something is cleared. Then we’ll deviate drivers from their routes to get them there.”

Kilhart said one of the “tricky spots” for his crews is the Main Street hill near MassGrow, “on that hill just above Chestnut Hill Avenue. It’s got just enough grade there, and a couple of times when I went by there were people who had spun out and were kind of off the edge. A tow truck was there one time, and another person just couldn’t move. So, there were some folks who were out and about.”

But for the most part, said Kilhart, people seemed to heed pre-storm warnings to stay off the roadways to avoid impeding plow crews and public safety vehicles. However, adherence to the parking ban wasn’t as universal as officials hoped.

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“Of course, like every town, we have a parking ban,” said Kilhart. “I did notice even this morning when I was out with the guys checking roads, there were quite a few places where we had to plow around vehicles that were parked on the street overnight. That’s an unfortunate thing because people are aware they need to be off the street. Our guys try to do the best we can and not plow people in, either, but certainly there were a few who decided not to pull into their driveways or get into an external lot.”

The DPW chief did say his drivers will notify Athol Police if they run across a vehicle in violation of the parking ban.

“But the police department was very busy, especially (Sunday) afternoon – from noontime to five or six o’clock – there was probably a bit more action that needed attention than a few vehicles parked on the street,” he added. “But we’re halfway into January and we’ve only had one snowstorm, so people tend to forget.”

Kilahart did want to remind drivers that, for $5, a sticker allowing them to park overnight in one of two municipal lots can be obtained at the town manager’s office at Town Hall. Kilhart is also asking residents to give his workers an assist as the area now faces predictions of heavy rain from Tuesday into Wednesday.

“One, we always ask folks to shovel their fire hydrants because the life they save may be their own,” he said. “Two, with the prediction we might be getting an inch or so of rain, if they know they have a storm drain out in front near their driveway, it might be prudent to take the snowblower to that and open that up.

“With the ground being frozen, there aren’t a lot of places for melting snow and rainwater to go. If these drains are clogged and covered over by the snow banking, there’s no place for it to go. It’s been since March or April since we’ve had any snow and people just need a gentle reminder. Every little bit helps because if that water can’t go anywhere it’s going to kick back into the street and ultimately – Wednesday night and into Thursday morning – refreeze.”

Greg Vine can be reached at gvineadn@gmail.com.