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Winter Operations

snowWinter Operations 

Saco Public Works would like to share some information about winter storm operations with residents as we head into the new year. The Department of Public Works is ready for the winter storm season, in which we care for more than 160 road miles, and more than 35 miles of sidewalks, during and after winter storms.

No two storms are identical; weather conditions can vary significantly during the winter months. Different weather conditions require different tactics. Different variables and circumstances dictate the appropriate strategy implemented for each storm. The goal is to keep the travel lanes open, minimize accumulation, and maintain passable conditions on the main roads. As the storm diminishes, drivers will go back over all routes to clean up and widen the roadways and intersections. Salt and sand will be applied to treat road surfaces. It may take 3 to 4 hours to complete a typical plow route; significant accumulations may occur during intense storms. The City only plows sidewalks within a 1-mile radius of school zones. There are several sidewalks in Saco that are outside this area that do not receive plowing.

Mailboxes
Owners are encouraged to view our mailbox guidelines posted on our website to ensure proper distance and height. Reflectors are useful and should be mounted to be visible from all approaches. Posts should be checked periodically for deterioration or rot to reduce the possibility of being broken simply by the weight of plowed snow. The city will not replace or reimburse for custom made mailboxes, ornate posts, granite posts, etc., existing mailboxes with rotted posts or in obvious poor existing condition. State of Maine law views mailboxes as an encroachment in the public way put their at the Owner's risk. Municipalities are not legally liable for any damage or repairs to mailboxes due to plowing operations.

Having your mailbox hit during a snowstorm can be an inconvenience and nuisance. We caution our drivers to pay close attention to mailbox locations; however; sometimes hitting them is unavoidable. Should your mailbox be hit or damaged during snow removal operations, Public Works tries to replace the mailbox for you. However, due to scheduling complications there may be a 4 or 5 day wait. We will not replace ANY ornate, special boxes, posts, or newspaper boxes. If you wish to have the city replace the mailbox, it will be replaced with a standard metal box along with a standard wooden post. At times, your box will be placed on a "spring" list if the post is unrepairable and needs a complete replacement. The City will never reimburse a resident for a replacement mailbox purchased independently.

Sidewalks
There are approximately 32 miles of sidewalk that need to be cleared and treated. The first priority is the downtown business district and school zones (the requirement is to clear a one mile radius around all schools in the city). Once these have been cleaned up the crews work into other areas. The city has 3 sidewalk tractors; it typically takes 3 to 5 days to completely clear sidewalks. On narrow streets, it may not be possible to clear the walks until snow can be removed from the street, so the walks may be unavailable for a week or more. Please be patient. 

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While plow crews try to minimize the amount of snow that gets plowed into driveways during a storm; it is the responsibility of the property owner to clear their driveway opening. Our priority is to clean streets and travel lanes, logistically, there is no way to prevent snow from entering driveway openings. It would be impossible to lift our plows every time we passed a driveway and would certainly compromise our ability to provide safe traveling routes for the public.

City ordinance prohibits the shoveling or plowing of snow into any city street or blocking of sidewalks.  Please remember, throwing snow into the street means it will end up in your neighbor's driveway, so be kind to one another.

Members of the community are encouraged to help Public Works by clearing catch basins and storm drains in front of their homes to help prevent water ponding on their streets and in their driveway openings. We maintain these as best we can, but if you are having an issue during a storm, all our crews are out working, and may not be able to respond to a drainage issue promptly. We had an earlier than average snowfall accompanied by freezing temperatures this year which prevented our sweeper from clearing as many streets as usual nor giving residents sufficient time to rake private yards. As a result, there are plenty of leaves still out there this season.

Winter Parking Ban
If a significant storm is predicted a parking ban may be ordered and the Transfer Station will be closed. The parking ban will prohibit parking on city streets allowing the crews to perform their job quickly and efficiently. Closing the Transfer Station will allow the department to have more personnel available to fight the storm. Bans will be announced on local radio and tv stations. You can also sign up for email notifications on our website or call our parking ban hotline at 282-SNOW (7669). The only location that allows for overnight parking within the City of Saco is the Long Term parking lot at the Amtrack Train station. Overnight parking is not allowed on any other city owned parking lot and vehicles will be towed.

Sanding & Salting
During normal business hours, DPW staff will monitor the weather and dispatch trucks and equipment as required. For nighttime and weekend storms, the Police Department will monitor road conditions. They will contact DPW foremen, should snow or icing develop. These individuals will respond with the appropriate number of trucks and equipment concentrating on main roads. This would ordinarily involve sand or salt runs to keep snow and ice from forming and packing on the road surface. Plowing operations would begin as needed. Major routes and arterials are the first priority followed by secondary roads and connectors. The objective is to keep roads safe and passable and prevent unmanageable accumulations in long duration storms.

The city's residential sand and salt pile is located at the Public Works Department, 351 North St. This sand and salt pile is for residential use only (not available to contractors). Residents can take two 5-gallon pails at a time. Containers will not be provided.

Age Friendly Saco, in collaboration with the Saco Public Works Department, will pick up 5-gallons of sand-salt mixture for any homebound resident older than 65 who needs it, and deliver it to their home in a pail provided by the Age Friendly Saco group. To have it delivered, call (207)710-5029 and leave a message if no one is in the office. Or you can complete the application at www.sacomaine.org/agefriendly

Snow Plowing

No two storms are identical; weather conditions can vary significantly during the winter months. Different weather conditions require different tactics. Different variables and circumstances dictate the appropriate strategy implemented for each storm. The goal is to keep the travel lanes open, minimize accumulation, and maintain passable conditions on the main roads. As the storm diminishes, drivers will go back over all routes to clean up and widen the roadways and intersections. Salt and sand will be applied to treat road surfaces. It may take 3 to 4 hours to complete a typical plow route; significant accumulations may occur during intense storms. The City only plows sidewalks within a 1-mile radius of school zones. There are several sidewalks in Saco that are outside this area that do not receive plowing.

After the Storm
Once the storm has ended, all secondary and minor roads will be cleared. The entire city will receive "another pass" to insure the roads are in a satisfactory condition. Salt and sand will be used to treat icy spots and packed snow. At this point, the focus shifts entirely to sidewalks and snow removal. Snow is removed for two primary reasons: to clear streets and sidewalks for vehicle and pedestrian traffic and to provide space for future snow accumulation. The downtown area is completed first, once this is complete, the crews move into residential areas. This is a slow process and it will take several weeks to finish the job. It is not unusual to have another storm hit, starting the process again.

General Information
Public Works does not have a dispatcher on duty 24 hours a day. We rely on the Police Dept during winter months to call in our crews outside normal working hours. 

Do not be confused by plow trucks riding with their plows up. They may be going in for fuel, repairs, or headed for another area.

How you Can Help
Here are some ways that you can help to make a winter storm event easier on both yourself and on the Public Works Crew:
  • Make sure your vehicle is ready for winter driving conditions (snow or all season tires, good wiper blades, a good battery, added weight in the truck, etc)
  • Allow yourself additional driving time to arrive at your destination
  • Reduce speed (even 4x4's have difficulty stopping on the ice)
  • Watch for black ice, especially on bridges and overpasses. Always take caution when traveling in these areas.
  • Do not shovel, blow or plow snow from driveways into or across the road. This practice is prohibited by city ordinance and can cause a serious traffic hazard. If possible, it is best to place snow on the side of the driveway opposite the direction from which the plow is coming. That way, the plow will carry snow away from the driveway rather than back into it.
  • Leave adequate distance, at least 200 feet whenever following a piece of snow removal equipment
  • Finally, please be patient. The city has approximately 118 centerline miles of roadway and approximately 32 miles of sidewalk to clear. Snow removal is a difficult and time-consuming job; we strive to accomplish this task in a safe and timely manner.
The City of Saco Public Works Department is committed to removing the snow and ice from streets and sidewalks as quickly as possible. The safety and mobility of our roadways throughout the winter months is very important to us. We hope that these comments and recommendations will help you and your neighbors understand what it is that we do and why we do it! 

Thank you!