Long, hard winter leads to higher snow removal costs, softer roads for local townships
“I’m not saying we’re in rough shape, but I mean, the winter’s been awful.”
WORTHINGTON — Spring officially took root on Monday, March 21, but winter’s consequences are still blooming all over Nobles County after townships battled all season to keep gravel roads clear during multiple snow events.
“It’s just been a long winter,” said Adam Blume, who has cleared snow for Worthington Township for 21 years. “We’ve had to deal with a lot of wind events … we’re always dealing with wind and snow blows around.”
Township roads are often narrower than city streets, and the land on either side of them may be higher than the road is, he said, meaning that township roads can get snowed in and plugged up easily. There are also fewer windbreaks in the country.
“It’s been awful,” said Gene Van’t Hof, Leota Township supervisor and chairman of the township board. “I’m not saying we’re in rough shape, but I mean, the winter’s been awful.”
The frequent snowstorms of the 2022-2023 winter season will likely prove expensive for townships, given the number of weather events, their severity and duration, and increased costs, including higher fuel prices.
“All I can say is, we spent very, very little last year, very very little the year before, and this year, we’ve probably spent the last three years’ budgets,” said Dean Christopherson, Bigelow Township supervisor. “We had the money accumulating because of what we didn’t spend the year before.”
Leota Township is in a similar situation.
“All in all, it probably evens out. Last year we hardly spent anything,” said Van’t Hof, noting that a couple projects may need to be put on hold for budgeting purposes.
“We spent way more money than we had figured on to deal with snow removal,” said Norman Rehborg, a supervisor with Seward Township. “And I think every township has.”
Bigelow Township definitely went over its projected budget for snow removal, due to labor, fuel and time — but the snow will likely continue to cost all Nobles County townships in the future, too. The snowmelt has softened the roads, leaving them soft and easily damaged, particularly by heavy loads.
“I think we’re going to have to buy more gravel than we normally do because the roads are quite soft and muddy,” Christopherson said. “I hope not, but we’ll have to see what June brings.”
Rehborg advised people to be patient with road restrictions, and wait for things to dry out as the weather gets warmer.
“Everything seems to be coming along now,” said Kenny Feeken, chairman of the Little Rock Township board, who also operates its grader for snow removal. “As long as we keep the nice weather coming, we'll be all right.”
Feeken, too, anticipates the township will need more gravel than usual this year.
“We’d like to keep heavy stuff off our roads right now, while they’re soft, so our roads don’t get torn up any worse than they are,” he said. “That would help us out a lot.”
Blume estimated snow removal would cost Worthington Township around triple what it did the previous two years.
“When I’ve got to be out there, I’ve got to be out there, because you’ve got a lot of people who live in the country that work in the city in Worthington Township,” he said.
He praised the residents in his township for their patience.
“I can’t complain. The people of our township have been really good. We haven’t had any complaining this year,” he said. “They’ve gotta allow us time to get there. We’ve got one machine for many miles — they know we’re coming eventually.”
“We try and do our best,” Van’t Hof said. “It’s kind of a thankless job.”
John Haberman, a supervisor with Graham Lakes Township, said people were good about waiting.
“You know, they’ve been really patient. We’ve had a few calls just wondering when we’re going out, and we usually try to wait for the storm to finish up and the wind to go down — but you can’t always,” Haberman said. “People have to get to their jobs and everybody works, and people gotta go.”
As far as the softened roads go, Feeken had some advice.
“Drive cautiously, because the roads are not that nice,” he said.
“We’re all ready for spring. I think everybody’s ready,” Haberman added. “Once (winter) started, it just really didn’t quit. It’s time to get nice.”