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posted: 1/24/2014 6:44 AM

Harsh winter means more tasks for public works

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You know all those other public services that need fixing or updating in Dundee Township: the broken streetlights in West Dundee or the dead ash trees that need to be cut down? Don't worry; public works employees haven't forgotten them. They will get to them ... when the snow stops falling.

In a winter when weather commandeers all their attention, crews that keep traffic flowing or parks safe are too busy driving their snow plows to complete projects they have had on their "to do" lists for weeks.

"This winter is one (snow) event after another," said Richard Babica, West Dundee public works director. "We have a four-week backlog of streetlights that need to be repaired, but we just can't get to them."

He and his colleagues throughout Dundee Township know that winter in Northern Illinois means snow and a few storms, but not this much and not this soon.

"This is an atypical winter," said Jim Kelly, East Dundee public works director. "Last year, we had a normal winter."

Snowfall totals have already exceeded last year's, and we are not even done with January.

Every time snow falls and accumulates, drivers start their trucks and drop their plows to make sure local roads are safe. Three weeks ago when two storms dropped more than five inches on Northern Illinois, drivers were in their trucks for more than eight hours, dropping hundreds of tons of salt.

"When the plowing is done, there's still work to be done," Babica said. "We have to wash out our trucks because salt is so corrosive; we don't want to ruin them."

Crews also have to lubricate and perform other maintenance to make sure the trucks are ready for the next time they need them.

"It takes a couple of hours to make sure a truck is clean and ready to go," Babica said.

And don't even mention the three dreaded words "water main break," he said. If one occurs, the projects are pushed farther down on the priority list.

Dundee Township highway crews know too well how quickly priority items are put off in snowy winters, said Highway Commissioner Larry Braasch.

"We still have 30 ash trees to cut down. The emerald ash borer killed them, and they need to come down, but we haven't had the time," Braasch said. "We've already spent more than 100 hours plowing and salting our roads. We have had little time to do anything else.

"We're praying for a mild winter for the next two to three months."

If his prayers are not answered, those trees, in unincorporated Algonquin Shores and the Richardson subdivision along Elgin Avenue, will wait until nature stops calling.

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