Digging Out: Tahoe’s snow-berm season | SierraSun.com

Digging Out: Tahoe’s snow-berm season

Andrew Cristancho/Sierra SunThe owner of a home on Goldfield Drive near Tahoe City will have to remove a a large snow berm before exiting the driveway. While plowing snow, Placer County snow removal equipment can leave berms like this one.

One fact of mountain life that can drive residents crazy in the winter is the snow-berm, the chunky debris left on driveways by county and state snow-removal equipment.

The presence of a concrete-like barrier on one’s doorstep can add hours to a homeowner’s task of snow removal.

But in North Tahoe and Truckee, not all berms are created equal.

In the wake of plowing deep snow, some areas are left with an intimidating snow berm that can be 5-feet high, according to Road Maintenance Superintendent Kevin Taber of the Placer County Road Department.

“That is a situation that residents don’t like and we don’t either,” Taber said Monday in a phone interview.

Some residents get so upset, he said they sometimes threaten the plow drivers.

To address the source of such anger, Taber’s agency has spent millions over the last four years upgrading the county’s snow-removal equipment, but it is a $15,000 piece of equipment that may do the most to reduce most complaints.

The snow-gate is a movable extension to a snowplow’s center blade that can be lowered as it approaches a driveway, sweeping snow away from private or public driveways.

Officials of El Dorado’s Department of Transportation said they’ve been using graders equipped with the gates for 15 years from Tahoma south to Strawberry ” with great success.

“They probably mitigate between 50 and 75 percent of the snow when you are plowing 6 inches or less,” said El Dorado Deputy Director of Maintenance Tom Celio. ” It’s when you get up to 12 inches they are not as effective [and] the snow starts to boil over the top of the gate.”

Years ago, Tahoe residents within El Dorado County voted for an annual $50 parcel tax that pays for a significant portion of the snow-removal equipment, Celio said.

Placer County has no similar tax. Although Placer has installed the anti-berm blades on 80 percent of its graders, administrators give the driver the ultimate responsibility of whether or not to use them.

“We try and use them as effectively as possible ” [but] they are a fragile instrument,” Taber said.

If the snow-gate breaks in the wrong place, it could put the entire $270,000 grader out of commission, he said.

Officials at the Town of Truckee Public Works department operate 12 loaders that, according to Director Dan Wilkins, are not compatible with the snow-gate blades.

He said town officials have debated in the past about adding more rotary snow-movers to its fleet implement a comprehensive berm-removal program.

Despite past discussions, Wilkins said the issue has not been a high priority for Truckee.

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