The Franklin County Highway Department encountered harrowing conditions as crews worked to clear snowdrifts from the winter storm that struck Sunday.
Highway Administrator Joe Feldmann said one county truck tipped on its side and another got stuck, but fortunately no one was seriously injured.
About a dozen trucks and 50 crew members were deployed to cover the county’s 900 square miles to make roads passable for motorists after one of the biggest winter storms to hit in decades struck Sunday morning.
Crew members manned cinder piles, plowed roads and fixed broken down equipment to stay ahead of the storm, Feldmann added.
Salt and chemicals were ineffective in the subzero temperatures.
A packed-down layer of snow was left on roads after the snow was plowed away, leaving a slick surface, Feldmann said. The goal was to plow as much of the snow off the road to get close to the surface so cinders could be put down.
Highway department crews hoped to plow every road at least once, but Feldmann said it was a slow process and that heavier-traveled roads were the priority.
Feldmann’s department started its road clearing efforts early Sunday, hoping to stay ahead of the storm. But once the heavy snow started, it was accumulating too fast for crews.
The highway department plowed for six hours Sunday and stopped at 2 p.m. for safety concerns and to let the storm pass, said Feldmann.
The snow was coming down so fast that crews could not keep up.
Feldmann himself was in a truck for three hours Sunday during the storm and said visibility was “horrible.”
On Monday all highway crew members were deployed for the storm response to work a 12-hour shift, meaning they would be done at 5 p.m.
The plan was to then start again early the next day.
Broken windshield wipers on plow trucks was an ongoing problem because of the accumulation of snow and ice. Road blades on plow trucks were also getting worn down, Feldmann said.
This snowstorm was abnormal and the largest Feldmann recalls for this area in the past decade. Some have referenced a storm from the early 1980s as being very bad, he said.
Beaufort Area Problems
Beaufort-Leslie Fire Protection District Chief Terry Feth said county crews did not work long to clear roads which posed a problem for first responders.
Feldmann said he realizes there were concerns that the county stopped plowing early on Sunday. But he said plowing was stopped because little progress was being made since the snow was coming down so fast. And the safety of the workers was a concern, too, Feldmann added.
Feth said the county road crews plowed early Sunday, but then an additional 9 inches fell onto the rural roads.
He noted that volunteer firefighters had a difficult time responding to the firehouses.
“All of my guys live on the back roads,” Feth said. “They depend on county workers.”
There were a few fire calls, including a flue fire in the Gerald area, according to Feth.
“A lot of our guys had trouble getting here. Fortunately (they) didn’t have to get too far off the state roads,” he said. “We reduced the equipment we take, but we never have all of the equipment we need on our smaller vehicles.
“If there would have been something larger further out, we would have been up a creek without a paddle,” Feth added.
Franklin County Emergency Management Director Abe Cook noted that Feldmann made the decision to stop clearing roads at 2 p.m. Sunday
“We weren’t able to get ahead of it, and we were not able to make progress,” Cook said.
Cook said the decision to stop plowing was based on employee safety.
“This was a bad storm, with drifting snow and the wind itself,” Cook added.
He said he understood the concerns of first responders, but there was little that could be done to the roads due to the conditions, while keeping employees safety in mind.
“It’s a lose-lose situation. There is no way to win this,” Cook said. “I can respect that there are some who are concerned with that decision.”