Snow storage, removal set to change around Austin

Published 7:00 pm Saturday, January 15, 2011

City and county officials question the impact a new watershed rule could have on their budgets and taxpayers.

A potential Cedar River Watershed District regulation could keep the city from dumping snow within 300 feet of any river, drainage system or pond.

Businesses would be allowed to move snow on their own properties, but would not be able to dump it on other properties within that 300 feet.

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Because runoff from snow is such a significant source of water pollutants, the CRWD wants to reduce its impact on the already endangered Cedar River.

Jon Erichson, Austin public works director, sees the issue from a city cost and taxpayer perspective.

Moving snow farther outside the shoreline area could significantly increase average city snow removal costs, Erichson said, which are currently about $100,000 a year. If the city were forced to truck snow out of Austin, he worries it could end up costing tax payers $150,000 on top of that per year.

One site, at Marcusen Ball Park, would possibly have to be eliminated, Erichson said. City officials aren’t sure how many of the snow piles lie within 300 feet of water bodies. Erichson and the CRWD would have to look at all the sites and reach some agreements on them, something the CRWD may be willing to bend on.

Austin’s snow removal schedule and routes could be altered, as well.

“We do a lot of hauling at night, when the cars are off the street,” Erichson said. Moving existing storage locations could put them closer to residential areas and disrupt traffic flows, he added.

Most of all, the city wants to avoid trucking snow farther than it has to, especially if its employees don’t know if it will be effective.

County Commissioner, Mike Ankeny, CRWD Administrator, Bev Nordby, and Erichson all agree that there need to be compromises.

The CRWD is looking at a combination of the rule and some allowances for best management practices (BMPs), such as buffer strips, heavy duty silt fences and other catches that keep particles from reaching the river. But city officials and county board seem to agree that the best way to tackle the issue of snow accumulation is with BMPs alone.

“What is the cost benefit?” Erichson said. “What’s magical about 300 feet? If you have BMPs that eliminates that (runoff), why establish a distance that eliminates a (storage) site?”

Ankeny and Erichson stressed the fact that even runoff from outside the restricted areas is going to flow into waterways. They both think that BMPs would be best, and they’re concerned that the 300-foot rule may not even improve water quality.

Nordby said that Erichson and the CRWD have been working very closely on the issue, and nothing is final. “Everything is still on the table and can be changed,” she said. “They can even be changed after they are set. This whole thing, it’s been a process of compromise.”

The CRWD is nearly finished revising its current draft rules — which includes the snow removal idea — and it will send them to the state for approval next week. After 60 days, the CRWD will have a final hearing in March and likely put the rules into action.