The late November snowfall in Spokane Valley may have made for a white Thanksgiving this fall, but the gust of early winter weather also meant residents scrambling for snow shovels, ice scrapers and other seasonal implements.
“For people who have just moved into town, the first step is buying a shovel and a bag of ice melt,” said Mike Marshall, a Central Valley High School graduate who works as a floor supervisor for the Ace Hardware store on Sullivan Road in Spokane Valley.
Snow clearing and ice management have been on the priority list for most residents since November, meaning business like Ace have been working to keep shelves stocked with shovels that range in price from $12 to $40. Meanwhile, snow throwers – the gas-powered machines known as the winter version of a lawnmower – run between $99 to $800. Ace also offers fancier renditions that are not carried in the store, but can be ordered for up to $1,500.
Last year, when the snow barely tallied on the regional measuring scale, the Spokane Valley Ace sold around 20 snow throwers. When the storm hit this autumn, the store cleared 23 in one day.
Like many retail outlets, Ace ran out of snow shovels after the November downfall, blitzing through their in-store allotment until more could be ordered. When some finally did arrive, people were lined up near the delivery truck while the shovels were being assembled.
Marshall said snowy weather generally means busy aisles.
“It’s like Memorial Day around here,” he said.
The Spokane Valley Ace will order from other warehouses throughout the country to keep up stock, although Marshall said the store “is good for the rest of the season.”
At Senske Lawn and Tree Care, the arrival of snow means dispatching close to 100 specialized vehicles in a three-state area that includes Washington, Idaho and Utah. In Spokane Valley, Senske is contracted to clear the sidewalks and parking lots at all municipal parks as well as buildings like the CenterPlace Regional Events Center, the Valley police precinct and portions of the Centennial Trail.
Doug Warner, Spokane branch manager for Senske, said maintenance crews are “out at CenterPlace every day” making sure walkways are clear for visitors and members of the Spokane Valley Senior Center whose programs are housed in the building.
Senske clients can opt for a “pay as you go” approach to snow clearing or sign up for a seasonal contract. Others pay a retainer to reserve their spot in line when the snow does become part of the landscape.
Warner said moderate winters, like the one last year, can mean layoffs. Heavier snow, on the other hand, translates to bringing on more staff.
As far as actually clearing the remnants of a storm, Warner said the tactics vary depending on the conditions.
“Wet, slushy snow is the toughest – it’s pretty heavy,” he said. “Every storm is different. It starts snowing at different times and ends at different times.”
Officials with the city of Spokane Valley know all about the importance of making sure roads remain safe and clear during the winter. When the city was still contracting with Spokane County for snow removal, the winter of 2008-09 proved to be one of the harshest in recent history.
In December 2008, Spokane Valley spent approximately $587,000 for snow clearing services. One month later, the bill was $625,000. Unlike this autumn, Spokane Valley streets were dry in November 2008. County trucks remained in the garage and the city did not pay a cent.
Last winter also proved to be a light season for the city on the snow removal front. From January through March, Spokane Valley spent roughly $107,000 with Poe Asphalt, a private company hired to replace Spokane County after county officials informed then-Mayor Rich Munson that the contract for snow clearing would not be renewed. The city spent another $28,000 during that juncture for two municipal employees assigned to winter maintenance.
Currently, the city has a fleet of half-a-dozen plow trucks and one smaller vehicle for snow removal. Expenditures in the final two months of 2010 amounted to around $353,000 with $187,000 going to Poe; $124,000 covering materials, including de-icer and parts for trucks and another $42,000 being set aside for staff costs.