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Erik Burgess, Published March 02 2013

Moorhead hires second contractor for snow removal

MOORHEAD – City leaders have made plans to react more quickly to major snowfall here, and just in time, with the metro area expecting up to 10 inches of the white stuff starting tonight.

When it comes to snow removal, the city is moving to what City Manager Michael Redlinger called a “12/24” model, meaning plows will attempt to make a single pass through residential neighborhoods within 12 hours of a major snowfall.

Plows would return to complete widening of the streets 24 hours after that, or between 13 and 36 hours after the initial storm.

Following the 9.7-inch snowfall on Feb. 10-11, it took Moorhead plows around 34 hours to make a first pass.

The National Weather Service office says 9.3 inches of snow fell in the metro on Feb. 10, and Redlinger said that is the 12th-highest snowfall on record for one-day events in the city’s history, which started keeping records in 1948.

The weather service is predicting 6 to 10 inches of snow in Fargo-Moorhead beginning tonight and into Monday morning. The area is in a winter storm watch through Tuesday.

To expedite street clearing after 6 or more inches of snow, Moorhead will be hiring Key Contracting Inc., out of West Fargo, to handle plowing duties in the city’s 210 cul-de-sacs, Redlinger said. That should clear up around 48 hours of labor for the city plows, he said.

Moorhead already hires Asplin Excavating Inc., out of Fargo, after any storm to haul snow out of the cul-de-sacs once it’s plowed. Key Contracting would only be brought in if more than 6 inches of snow fell.

“It’s all in place. Contracts are signed,” Mayor Mark Voxland said on Saturday. “We have people on call just in case it’s a very large snow event.”

The “12/24” model would cost between $23,000 and $26,000 for each major snow event, Redlinger said. The city is already paying $16,000 of that for Asplin’s contract.

The city will also be working to more efficiently use city staff to clear streets during major snowfalls. Street personnel already work 24 hours a day during storms, but there are not always enough people to run every piece of machinery.

Redlinger said other staff, like sanitation, forestry and park maintenance, will be prioritized to better use any idle machinery and be more a part of the “initial response” to large snowfalls.

“This is trying to add some additional bodies to the existing resources that are out there,” he said.

The tradeoff is that some trails or park facilities might not be cleared out as soon, he said.

City staff also evaluated the GPS software currently being utilized by West Fargo plows, which allows residents to see which streets have been cleared and which haven’t.

Redlinger said in lieu of setting up such a system – which cost West Fargo $55,000 to install and $10,000 a year for maintenance – Moorhead could set up a map online, which staff would update as streets were being cleared.

At a City Council retreat Saturday, council members also further discussed hiring a public information officer for the city, who would be in charge of handling news releases and would be a spokesperson for the city.

Some council members were concerned about responding effectively to the city’s “negative media perception,” most recently concerning snow removal and towing.

On Monday, the council tabled approval of a $66,000 marketing agreement with the Fargo firm Flint Communications to continue a “Make Moorhead Home” campaign that began last year. The funds would be taken from a total $91,000 already budgeted by the Economic Development Authority last year.

Councilman Mark Altenburg said Saturday he’d rather spend that money in-house on salary for a full-time PIO for the city.

“I’d rather put that (money) into a person whose job it is every morning to wake up and say, ‘How can I market Moorhead?’ ” Altenburg said.

Altenburg said he wants there to be one person to speak to media, who can then craft a pro-Moorhead message, especially in times of distress like major snowstorms.

“Our narrative isn’t always positive, and we need to figure out how to handle that,” he said.

The idea was received moderately well by the rest of the council, but Voxland said funds would need to come from somewhere else if the city were to hire a full-time PIO. City staff is studying the issue.

The council seemed to agree that even without a full-time PIO, each member is the city’s “ambassador” to the public and the media.

“We have to realize that the way we’re communicating, it can lead to perceptions for our city that could literally take years to erase,” Councilwoman Nancy Otto said. “We really have to watch what we’re doing publicly.”


Readers can reach Forum reporter Erik Burgess at (701) 241-5518