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Mounds of snow causing headaches for motorists

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Like many other motorists these days, Copenhagen resident Randy J. Elmer inches his car out and peeks around snowbanks when he comes to an intersection.

Fortunately, Mr. Elmer hasn’t been plowed into by other motorists pulling out in front of him, he said. With snowbanks piling up, motorists seem to be less careful than they were in past winters, he said.

“I remember when you put flags on your antenna so other people could see you,” he said while stopping to buy groceries in Watertown on Tuesday afternoon.

With a seemingly endless string of snowstorms this season, city Department of Public Works crews just started last week tackling the issue of removing the growing snowbanks that are making it difficult for motorists to maneuver through Watertown streets. It’s not unusual to find snowbanks 4 or 5 feet high — or more.

“We’re trying to clear the stuff away,” DPW Superintendent Eugene P. Hayes said.

It’s been tough on both equipment and DPW crews, he said. And, of course, on his snow-removal budget.

So far, the planned $1.25 million budget has exceeded projections by $250,000, Mr. Hayes said. The cost of overtime, contracted snow haulers and equipment are all up, he said. Surprisingly, road salt expenses aren’t too bad. Crews, however, are using a lot more sand, he said.

To this point, the north country has been hit by 19 snowstorms, and that has put a damper on snow removal efforts, he said. Just as city crews are trying to get rid of it, another snowstorm hits. Then another, and another, and another, he said.

Besides the amount of snow, crews are hindered by what’s underneath the snowbanks — tree branches, limbs and debris left from the Dec. 23 ice storm, Mr. Hayes said.

Despite DPW requests not to, Mr. Hayes said many property residents placed the debris within the margins, the area between the street and sidewalk. Removing the debris could cause damage to DPW equipment, he said.

A tree limb with a 3- or 4-inch diameter could wreak havoc on snowblowing equipment and cause “thousands and thousands of dollars in damage,” Mr. Hayes said.

“We really never got over the ice storm,” he said.

The topic of snowbanks also came up at Tuesday night’s Watertown City Council meeting when council members said they noticed crews were making headway on some city streets. Councilman Joseph M. Butler Jr. credited Mr. Hayes for getting rid of snow on streets near his home “that were impassable.”

Water department crews also have been kept busy. Since Jan. 1, crews have repaired 13 water main breaks, Water Superintendent Michael J. Sligar said. Just Monday, two occurred: on Stone Street and on Sherman Street at Elm Street, he said.

Water main breaks are not uncommon for this time of the year, he said. They occur when the frost line reaches water mains.

“This is when they happen back to back,” he said.

There may be a thaw later this week, and much of the snow that’s out there now could be gone by week’s end, Mr. Hayes said.

“We just need some relief,” he said.

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