“Snowmageddon” — the extreme weather event that impacted the greater Puget Sound area in February — has left many cities in the area, including Kirkland, planning out how to respond in case history repeats itself.
Following a council conversation on the winter event in April, discussions around winter weather continued at council’s Nov. 6 meeting. Because the city and public works department ultimately spent a combined $545,000 on the event — a number much higher than the latter department’s annual $50,000 snow and ice budget — the city is preparing for an extreme weather event if one occurs the future.
At the Nov. 6 meeting, Ray Steiger, public works superintendent for the city, and Nathen Hower, street and grounds manager for Kirkland, shared with council an updated draft of the 2019-20 snow and ice plan. Once the 2021-22 budgeting process begins, city staff intend to both finalize the plan and come back to the council with potential funding options as applicable.
“We’re not expecting the same 40-year snowstorm that we had in February, so that should be a good thing,” Hower said.
As shared at the meeting, a number of changes have been made to the plan’s new draft to be better able to support extreme weather events down the line. Resource lists have been updated in order to accommodate any new equipment that might be used, reflect crew shift lists and clarify new-found dispatching practices.
To further support areas that may be more vulnerable to the adverse effects of a snowstorm, priority routes have been revised. Parts of State Street South, 6th Avenue and 120th Avenue Northeast have been added; Northeast 52nd Street and Northeast 97th Street have been delineated as areas that might have potential road closures.
Additionally, a new coordinated plan is being worked on so that garbage pickup routines and locations are not as dramatically affected during long inclement weather events. A full communications plan is also being finalized, with special attention toward extreme weather situations and their relationship to the emergency operations center.
Something that became apparent to the city during the February event was that clearing roads often isn’t enough. As it stands, the city code clarifies that sidewalk maintenance is the responsibility of the adjacent property owner. But Snowmageddon showed that many city residents and business owners didn’t have the tools necessary to do the job and weren’t aware that the code delegated the responsibility to them in the first place. After councilmembers asked staff earlier this year to see what it would take to clear sidewalks around schools and transit routes, it was found that $30,000 worth of equipment would be needed, as well as $150,000 in labor costs.
“We do want to remind folks that it is their responsibility,” Steiger said. He added that city staff are working on an outreach plan and have looked at potentially using private contractors for sidewalk clearing.
Council had general clarifications about the plan — most involving how the city might approach sidewalk clearing, both in terms of communication and active mitigation — but did not voice any qualms about the staff’s draft.
Mayor Penny Sweet noted that, even if a Snowmaggedon-like event doesn’t happen in the near future, it’s important to be prepared.
“I would like to see it sort of staggered,” she said. “Because we’re not going to see events like this a lot. But I think we need to test our ability to respond.”
For the full conversation around the 2019-20 snow and ice plan, go to the Nov. 6 council meeting recording at bit.ly/2KG9caT. For more information about the draft plan, go to the meeting agenda item at bit.ly/2O4B7Dr.