North Mankato city crews clear snow Monday from Sherman Street.

John Cross
The Free Press, Mankato, MN

The snow stopped falling, finally, but piles of work remain for area public works crews.

“We’ll be — at least for the rest of the week — cleaning up,” said Mark Knoff, director of public works for the city of Mankato.

The heaps of snow in the downtown area need to be hauled away, snow piles at intersections have to be hacked down to boost visibility, sidewalks must be cleared.

For several weeks beyond that — barring additional major snowstorms — crews will turn their focus to widening those streets where snow is encroaching on the driving lanes.

With much busier streets to be dealt with, crews are unlikely to get to Celestine Circle snow mound anytime soon — if ever. So a local teenager took unilateral action to protect drivers who might not spot the mountain of snow plowed into the center of the quiet residential cul-de-sac.

Matt Kotthoff used neon pink spray paint and massive letters to warn drivers about the presence of the snow pile after a pair of motorists ran into the snow. The massive mound would seem hard to miss, but Kotthoff said drivers can have trouble when the sun is setting or when it’s snowing hard.

Kotthoff’s motivation — along with the safety of the motoring public — might have had something to do with tweaking one of the drivers who smacked the snow pile particularly hard.

“My dad, he was actually driving my car at the time, and took out my bumper — totaled out my bumper,” Kotthoff said of his father, Tom.

An East High School junior, Kotthoff said he is hopeful his father is going to cover the cost of replacing the bumper.

Taxpayers will be covering the cost of displacing the snow. With more than a foot of snow falling in the region from Wednesday through Saturday, it was a substantial storm. And the dense powder from the first wave of the storm was followed by a lead-heavy batch of slush and then an inch or two of fluffy powder.

The stuff in the middle made the job of snow crews more difficult and more expensive.

“We essentially got a March snow in December,” Knoff said. “In March, it melts. In December, it doesn’t.”

Instead, it beats up plows, burns up fuel and turns into a hard, crusty mess when the weather turns cold.

“That’s a hard push,” said North Mankato City Administrator Wendell Sande of the soggy snow that made for back-breaking shoveling for homeowners and rig-wrecking plowing for cities. “It’s a real test for the equipment.”

It also means additional work hours for maintenance crews, to go along with the extra hours for plow drivers. The result is extra wages paid on Christmas, the Saturday following Christmas and on Sunday — most of it premium wages paid for overtime and holidays.

“Murphy’s Law of snow removal would require that those kinds of snows come on a holiday weekend,” Sande said.

Neither city had any concern about running out of money at the end of the year due to the overtime. Mankato had about $100,000 left in its snowplowing budget prior to the storm, and it might be mostly eaten up by the multi-day effort to keep roads cleared.

Sande said any overtime costs related to the storm will mean less money carried over into the 2010 budget, which is going to be a tight one because of state aid cuts. But there was little reduction in plowing to preserve money.

Knoff said Mankato didn’t spend many resources cleaning the residential streets on Sunday after the final powdery inches fell overnight, but that was mainly to give tired crews a break.

And they are tired — from township workers on road graders to Minnesota Department of Transportation employees driving the largest plows.

“I heard they’re a little punchy,” said Rebecca Arndt, spokeswoman for MnDOT’s Mankato-based District 7, noting the weeklong effort of preparation and reaction to the storm.

Today might be the first in several days where the district isn’t running a two-shift attack on the snow, with one group coming in around 4 a.m. and the second reporting around noon. Even so, there’s plenty to do in the days ahead, Arndt said.

Roads will be widened, depleted salt and sand bins will be refilled, and equipment will be repaired. She asked for the continued patience of drivers as they come across MnDOT plows and trucks.

“Motorists should still expect the unexpected,” Arndt said.

One pleasant surprise for Knoff was how diligent most Mankatoans were about getting their cars off of city streets last week despite that a snow emergency wasn’t declared until Sunday. That helped crews do their job more efficiently, and it reduced towing when the snow emergency was put in effect.

Just 21 vehicles were towed the first night of the snow emergency, which might have been a record low, according to Knoff.

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