Snowstorm #20, But Who’s Counting in this Rural New England Town?

This original interview with the Sherman, Connecticut Public Works Supervisor just appeared in the Citizen News on February 11th. Six more snowstorms added to the count in just 10 days.Talk about a tough job!

Article & Photo by Alicia Sakal

How Many Snowstorms Are We Up To? Sherman’s Public Works Department Sure Knows!

In light of the seemingly never-ending amount of snowstorms we’ve been experiencing lately, some residents may have lost track of the official count by now. However, there’s one reliable source in town that knows all too well how many snowstorms we have had to-date and it’s none other than the reliable Public Works Department (PWD).

Don Borkowski, Sherman’s seasoned supervisor of fifteen years, and his team of dedicated drivers and operators, Ken Grant, Matt Heinz, Adam Miller; and his mechanic / operator pro, Cliff Palmer know the answer to this question with quite certainty because they “live it” firsthand.

Fourteen and counting… and anticipating the fifteenth snowstorm was the answer at the time of this interview. As the Citizen News went to press, the fifteenth snowstorm was already over, with the sixteenth storm already forecasted.

Getting in touch with Mr. Borkowski in between snowstorms for this interview was a bit challenging because you can never find him or his crew staying in one place for very long. After all, they have much work to do in order to prepare for the next snowstorm, regardless if it’s expected to be “the big one” or “just another small one.”

One of the first questions posed to Mr. Borkowski was “what weather station or website do you rely on to get accurate weather information?” His reply, and he wasn’t kidding either, “I look outside the window of my shop. This is the most reliable way to see what’s going on with the weather and you can’t go by anybody’s report. I listen to the Channel Four weather guy and he doesn’t usually get it right… same with the other meteorologists out there.”

He continued to say that areas in Sherman can vary in weather patterns because “the center of the Town is much different than the mountainous areas of Sherman where there can be a two-to-four degree difference in temperature.” In other words, there can be ice in one area and snow building up in a higher elevation area.

When asked if he thinks this year could be one of the worst years when it comes to the severity of snowstorms, he rated this season as “slightly above average to-date, just because of the frequency we’re dealing with.”

The Protocol

Whenever a snowstorm is about to hit the area, Mr. Borkowski stated that “all of the primary and secondary town roads are sanded and salted first before they are even plowed, and this includes the school bus routes.”  As for the Town’s dirt roads, they are personally plowed by him. Once the town roads are done, then the emergency buildings, school, and town parking lots and sidewalks are done.

Mr. Borkowski said that if a storm hits right before school hours then he and Dr. Pascento, the Sherman School Principal, talk about the school delay while he is out doing the roads. He also said that “if New Milford closes their schools then Sherman will close, too.”

He then shared his #1 safety tip urging residents to first and foremost “stay off the roads if you do not have to be on them.”

The Logistics

Whenever a storm hits, each of the five drivers / operators is responsible for seven miles of town roads, and this involves sanding, salting, and plowing the area. Mr. Borkowski said each person covers an impressive 100+ miles of plowing per route, per truck in any given storm. That’s 500+ miles, total, because the crew makes several roundtrips going back-and-forth and up-and-down the roads, and they also frequently make trips back-and-forth to the Public Works Yard to get supplies. The PWD crew typically goes out three-to-four times per storm and plows once or twice in the morning, at noon, and once or twice in the evening.

To illustrate the extensiveness of what they routinely do, it took his team of five fulltime town employees, including himself, 17 hours from start-to-finish because they went out three different times to sand, salt, and plow during the last snowstorm. Not included in this total, he sometimes hires seasonal temporary workers to manually shovel areas that the plows can’t get to.

As for what the PWD has in its inventory to get Sherman back to normal during and after a snowstorm, they have six plow trucks, total, and the one backup truck needs to be replaced because it is completely rotted. Mr. Borkowski is hoping that the Town comes up with a purchasing plan / replacement program soon because, right now, it can take several years to replace an old truck, a piece of outdated equipment, or a communications system.

The Aftermath and Planning

Naturally, the aftermath of a snowstorm can make for a very messy cleanup. Mr. Borkowski is anticipating that he and his crew will make much use out of the new Public Works Wash Station that will be under construction soon, thanks to the recently awarded STEAP Grant the Town received. Why he is enthusiastic is “because it’s a great investment and we will get longevity out of them [the Town trucks]. Salt rots everything and it’s mainly due to the tons of salt being used on the State routes.” He added, “we typically use a sand and salt mix with a 2-to-1 ratio; one bucket of salt to two buckets of sand.” This PWD “recipe” can vary because it depends on the temperature.

“How much salt and sand does the PWD exactly go through, on average?” was the next question. The answer… “The PWD uses around 600 tons of salt a year, and each storm is at least a two-day event from start to finish for us,” said Mr. Borkowski. “Right now, we are still in decent shape. The sand pile is at 50% and I can always call Morton Salt whenever we need it.”

As for how much it costs the Town each winter season, on average, Mr. Borkowski said that each year varies because it depends on the storms. “$60,000 is in the winter budget for sand and salt. The PWD stocks up with any leftover. So far, 400 tons of salt has been used this season and there is another 75 tons coming of raw Morton Salt, which makes us good for a three-day storm.”

When asked about prep-time and what’s involved before each anticipated snowstorm, Mr. Borkowski said that “we are prepared and ready to go every day.  Everything is checked and monitored weekly. I also report on a weekly basis to the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).”

Helping Out the PWD

As for how Sherman residents can help the PWD to do their jobs better, Mr. Borkowski replied “please keep your cars off the roads. Vehicles in the road while we are trying to plow and clear the roads is the biggest problem we have because it impairs us from clearing the roads for you and the rest of your neighbors. Doing this also prevents emergency vehicles from getting through if there is a sudden disaster. Don’t push snow in the roads either and tell your contractors not to do this as well.”

Mr. Borkowski then stated “it would be wise for the Town of Sherman to come up with a town ordinance to get the cars off the road and off the turnarounds because, for the most part, every driver / operator encounters the problem of people parking on the roads, and pushing and blowing snow on the roads, during any given storm.” He also pointed out “this is another potential liability situation for the Town because if emergency vehicles can’t gain access to a road then it’s a serious problem if anything bad should happen.”

Now that’s Interesting…

“Whenever there is a big snowstorm coming, do you and your team ever stay overnight at the garage and sleep in shifts?” was the next question. “I don’t keep the guys overnight. There’s not enough traffic in the Town so I don’t need to have them do that. The primary routes are always open, sanded, and salted. We get to work by 2 a.m. in the morning. Then, we go home to eat and come back to the garage. We are also out before or during rush hour and we won’t leave until everything is salted, sanded, and plowed. I will not let them go if it’s a huge problem,” Mr. Borkowski said.

He then added, “I really appreciate the hard work my guys do and they are always there for me whenever I need them. I can’t ask for much more. My guys know that long hours are part of the job and they have to be here.”

“How long does it take you to get to the PWD garage during a snowstorm?” Mr. Borkowski replied “not long at all because I live practically down the street and can walk to work. It’s an easy commute.”

For the Fun of It

As a bonus, the PWD clears the town’s playground areas and parks of snow, too, which is a town amenity. Mr. Borkowski is especially “surprised by how many joggers use the school track and how many dog walkers use Veteran’s Park during the winter months.”

When asked “do you enjoy any winter sports?” Mr. Borkowski shared, “I used to enjoy my snowmobile but not anymore… that was a long time ago. Even if I wanted to now, “there’s no downtime [for winter sports] anymore because I always work when it’s snowing.”

Just as the meeting was finishing up, the Town’s “unofficial” weatherman, a.k.a. Don Borkowski, suddenly switched into weather reporter mode. Midsentence, he looked out the window and said assuredly “look, it’s snowing now, but there’s nothing to worry about. It’s just a snow shower and it will pass.” A few hours later, he was absolutely right.

One thing is certain, it’s a relief to know that “the guys”… Adam (truck #2), Cliff (truck #5), Don (truck #12), Ken (truck #3), and Matt (truck #6) will plow Sherman out and “save the day” whenever Mother Nature isn’t exactly cooperating.

Thank you Public Works Department of Sherman for making sure residents get back to their normal routines as quickly as possible like driving to school, work, and the IGA grocery store. As for Sherman’s ski enthusiasts, they should be happy, too, because they can easily drive “to the slopes”.

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