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Awaiting the inevitable snowfall, removers are well-prepared

You won’t hear many complaints about the lack of snow from the men and women who plow the roads.

Their equipment, such as Buffalo’s new plows and all-terrain vehicle, sits shiny and idle in highway garages.

Salt barns are full.

Roadside ditches and receivers that get inundated with leaves in the autumn causing local flooding in the spring are getting cleaned out.

Brush and leaves are still being picked up, and late roadwork is being completed.

And dogs are being counted.

That’s right. In the Town of Aurora, some of the highway workers who would otherwise be busy clearing snow are going door-to-door, conducting a dog census. It’s been at least 14 years since the last census, said Highway Superintendent David M. Gunner.

“I don’t think the workers care for that, but it’s something that needs to be done,” he said.

“We’re not the type that sits around. I always make sure there’s something to do.”

They painted the senior citizens center in Aurora, too.

So maybe the census-takers might like to see a little snow. Highway crews won’t have a lot of extra overtime pay, either, but that’s good news for municipal budgets.

The pattern of balmy December weather shows no sign of ending soon as the area continues to add more days to its new record for latest measurable snowfall, surpassing the mark set back on Dec. 3, 1899.

In Buffalo, the annual inspection of the city’s snow-removal fleet Tuesday had everything except snow.

“We don’t usually have this luxury,” said Mayor Byron W. Brown. City Public Works Commissioner Steven J. Stepniak said the recent mild weather has been a “blessing.”

“We have a lot of winter to go here, we understand that,” Stepniak said in the city’s Broadway Garage. “But the savings in salt and wear and tear on the equipment is valuable. It’s a great thing.”

This year, the city added $1.3 million in new equipment, Brown said, including its first John Deere tractor for clearing sidewalks, five new plows, a high-lift and 23 salt spreaders.

It brings the total number of pieces of equipment in the city’s snow-clearing arsenal up to 78 in the Public Works Department, with an additional 20 pieces available from other city departments, if needed, Brown said. Crews clear 800 miles of city roads and have 11,000 tons of salt on hand.

“I am pleased that conditions have been so mild, but we know inevitably that is going to change,” Brown said.

“We love it,” Hamburg Highway Superintendent Thomas M. Best Sr. said about the weather, but he added a note of caution:

“I’m afraid Mother Nature’s going to get it back.”

He’s not alone with that Western New York pessimism.

“Everybody’s worried about that with the lake being this warm,” said Aurora’s Gunner. “I think all our superintendents are worried about a true lake-effect in January.”

“It beats last year when we had too much snow,” said William G. Cansdale Jr., superintendent of public works in the Village of Lancaster.

“You never know, it’s Buffalo!” Gunner said. “One year we built a park shelter in January.”

“When is it going to snow again? Nowhere in the near future,” said Aaron Reynolds, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service.

It might be sometime next week, he said, but it’s a little soon to tell.

Communities aren’t just saving on overtime budgets, but are using less fuel and road salt.

“Those terrible cold temperatures, they really have some serious impacts on the streets,” said West Seneca Supervisor Sheila M. Meegan. “There are many streets that demand attention. Having these severe winters like we’ve had really increases the need. Getting some relief from Mother Nature is welcome.”

Winter officially arrives Dec. 21, and when it finally does snow, Buffalo will be ready.

Bids are being received this week for a new pilot program to clear snow on sidewalks at city-owned properties along pedestrian-heavy main roads, Stepniak said.

“This augments our regular city force that does some of that sidewalk removal,” he said. “So we think it’s going to be an advantage to all to have a walkable community.”

Included in the city display were the new ATV and two snowmobiles for use by the Fire and Police departments so first responders can more easily reach residents during heavy snowfall.

“One of the lessons learned during the very heavy snowfall during the ‘November to Remember’ storm is we needed to have vehicles like this to be able to respond to the needs of our residents,” Brown said. “We have made those additional purchases.”

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