Snow cleanup a thankless job for crews
KATHY KUNKEL/TIMES NEWS Workers from the Tamaqua Water Authority work 12 to 13 hours days attempting to remove the huge mounds of snow left behind by continuous Winter storms.
Tired of the snow? Well, so are the people who have to deal with it on the municipal level.
That fluffy, white stuff many wished for before Christmas has overstayed its welcome in communities throughout the Times News coverage area. Back- to-back-to-back snowstorms have left the area covered in snow banks instead of the coal banks of the past, although the snow piles are beginning to resemble coal banks thanks to road dirt.
Neighbors aren't as friendly when parking spaces are at a premium. Getting to and from work, school or the grocery store is more like an expedition than a short drive. Nerves are frayed, tempers flare and the phrase "enough is enough" can be heard every time the word snow is mentioned.
At Tuesday night's meeting of Tamaqua Borough Council, snow complaints were a hot topic.
Yet, while the meeting was taking place, borough workers were still dealing with the massive mounds of snow. And, they were also dealing with the unhappy public.
Long days, 12 to 13 hours, have become the norm for the borough street and water crews. For the past three weeks and counting, workers have been dealing with the snow six and seven days a week. While that may add up to some hefty overtime pay, it doesn't do much for family time.
At 6 p.m. Thursday, a crew of four was working to remove snow piles from several Tamaqua streets. The crew included Tamaqua Water Authority workers Bud Comisac, Nathan Miller and Jay Stidham, with help from independent contractor Matt Hope.
Stidham was manning a front end loader, while the other men jockeyed large dump trucks into position. The snow was then taken to the Bungalow Park, which is beginning to look like the Alps according to Comisac.
"People complain about the snow on the streets during the storm. Then they complain we're taking too long to clean the streets after the storm. We're in their way. We can't win. If this snow was worth money, the complainers would be all over it. Since it's worth crap, they say make the borough deal with it," Comisac said.
His crew has been cursed, yelled at, given inappropriate hand gestures, threatened and made to feel like pariahs almost every day since Christmas.
They've been separated from their families, according to Miller, who says he's seen his son "once since the storms began, for a few minutes while dumping snow at the Bungalow."
Stidham wistfully notes he hasn't been able to speak with his "wife, face to face, in three weeks. I'm working, she's sleeping. I'm catching a few hours sleep, she's at work. Its hard on a marriage."
Mother Nature hasn't taken any pity on municipal workers and the residents of the Northeast United States in 2014.
She's been relentless in producing snow storm after snow storm, and not just the nuisance snows the Northeast has been lulled with in the past 10 years or so.
Add to that the constant biting cold, which keeps the snow from melting, and you have a winter for the record books.
Comisac reflects on how workers deal with storms.
"Once the roads become icy or snow covered, the borough crews are called out, no matter what the time of day. Then, we have two work crews around the clock, one from the borough street department, the other from the water authority, trying to keep at least the main roads clear.
"That's tough when you're dealing with snow falling an inch or more an hour," he said. "After the storm, we go back and start on the side streets. We realize there's nowhere for residents to go with so much snow and understand when they create huge mounds that take up what should be parking spaces.
"But, then they expect us to deal with those mounds, long after the storm is actually done. It's frustrating for them and for us."
While the men can understand the public's frustration, they can't understand the anger and animosity directed at them.
"We're just as tired of the snow as they are," says Miller.
As for the overtime, it will definitely come in handy for paying increased heating costs.
Mother Nature just continues to keep giving to these hardworking men.