Snowfalls challenged area cities this season

Cities holding their own regardless of record snow removal, sanding, salting

Pequot Lakes maintenance worker Lance Ray drives the city's newest plow truck on Olson Road on Thursday, Feb. 7.
A Pequot Lakes maintenance worker drives a plow truck on Olson Road in 2019.
Echo Journal File Photo

Area city leaders all agree — this past winter season was a tough one for snowplowing.

Warm temperatures finally descended on the area and fingers are crossed that last week’s spring storm that brought snow, sleet and freezing rain was the last of the 2022-23 winter season.

“It isn’t just the frequency of events but the type of them with a lot of ice this winter,” Rich Spiczka, Pequot Lakes city administrator, said in an email.

Pequot Lakes had 32 plowing events this season, which will have an impact on fuel and maintenance budgets because of the repairs needed on equipment with so many events in one season, he said.

Patrick Wehner, Crosslake’s public works director since last July, joined the city just in time for a challenging winter season that saw 33 plowing events. The average is around 20.


“The worst part of this year is it's all been heavy, wet snow. We’ve never had a light and fluffy one,” Wehner said.

That means it takes twice as much fuel to get through the run, he said, adding the city hauled in 20 tons more salt and has very little of it left.

Regarding sand, the city has a joint maintenance facility with Crow Wing County and repays the county for sand used each month.

“We also used about 20% more sand than last year,” Wehner said, estimating the city spent at least 20% more on fuel as well.

In Pequot Lakes, Spiczka said the city has enough salt and sand but did order a bit more than usual.

Pine River recorded a likely record 100 tons of sand and salt this winter season. Public Works Director Mike Hansen said in a typical year, his department uses 50-60 tons of the mixture to keep city roads from becoming too slick.

"We've gone through more salt sand this year than any winter that I've been a part of over the last 25 years," Hansen said. "So it's the first time that I've actually had to buy more than what we ever carried on hand. So this year has been a banner year for salt-sand use."

Nisswa Public Works Director Tom Blomer said his city had plenty of salt for the year; however, they did use far more than is typical.


"We always bank a year’s worth of salt that we usually use the following year. So, we have plenty, but we did dip into that reserve last week," Blomer said March 31. "We don’t expect to order extra salt next year, but we did spend more money in overtime and fuel to plow this year than last."

Joe Zierden, Breezy Point public works director, said that city had 25 plowing events as compared to a typical 15 to 20 per winter. Breezy Point has used 90 tons of salt as compared to 75 in a typical year.

Breezy Point experienced a shortage in their salt stockpile in January and chose to stop deicing with salt at that time. The city traditionally can continue to deice through the end of winter.

The amount of snow hasn't been the only consideration for this year's plowing, Pine River’s Hansen said. He's been forced to plow even during some light snowfalls thanks to how slick roads have been.

Even so, with several substantial storms over the past winter, the city has had to spend more money to have snow hauled out, since they only have so much room to pile it up.

"We've hired hauling snow a little more often than what we've had in the past, and it just seems like the winter won’t end," Hansen said. "We're sick of hauling snow, that's for sure."

Breezy Point also had to take extra efforts to make room for snow, pushing back large banks on cul-de-sacs and intersections five times versus one or two times.

Cleanup has required two to three times as many hours as in past years.


Pequot Lakes’ policy is to plow when 3 or more inches of snow falls, but oftentimes the city will plow and/or treat roads with a lesser weather event.

Crosslake plows 62 miles of road. City policy is to plow after 2 inches of snow, but it’s also at Wehner’s discretion. Last week’s storm didn’t drop much snow, but it was icy so trucks went out to scrape and sand the roads.

Knowing how snow removal will affect the Pine River Public Works Department's budget won't be easy until next winter due to the timing for the city budget.

“Our fiscal year is Jan. 1 to Dec. 31, so our hard winter doesn't always have an impact on the budget," Hansen said. "My 2023 year started Jan. 1. Really not a lot happened in December and November, so last year's budget did real well on snow.

“Now this year — yeah, I'm having a hard first part of the year. But if I don't have a very rough November-December of 2023, I think I'll be OK. But if I have a rough November-December, then this year's budget took a hit," he said.

Blomer is also looking ahead to the lasting impact of the snow, freezing and thawing that will continue into the summer.

"The freeze/thaw cycle of the last couple weeks is causing a problem with deepening ruts in the snowpack on shaded areas of our streets," Blomer said. "We are adding extra salt with each pass of the plow to try to break the snow pack and ice ruts loose. Finally, potholes are numerous due to the long freeze/thaw cycle this spring. We have already ordered our second pallet of cold patch and the snow isn’t gone yet. We will likely go through two to three times as much this year."

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