“It’s great to see snow, it’s been a while,” said the Town of Mammoth Lakes Public Works Director Hayslip Hayes during his department update at the Town Council meeting on Wednesday, December 15.
The snow removal team has been hard at work, laboring around the clock in an attempt to keep the roads drivable after this week’s storms.
Main Lodge received 42 inches of new snow following 72 hours of consistent snowfall starting Monday morning . This, plus another 11-13 inches of snow from Thursday, puts the season total at 107 inches at Main Lodge and 145 inches at the summit.
According to Police Chief Al Davis, as of Wednesday afternoon, police had been involved in 30 traffic assists since Sunday pulling cars out of trouble.
There were four shutdowns of the road going up to Mammoth Mountain due to cars getting stuck along the way.
And only two actual collisions.
Hayes highlighted that the snow removal team is smaller than usual this year; as of present, there are only 10 loader/blower operators on the job as opposed to the usual 14. Hayes explained this is due to one full-time position having retired this month, along with another three vacant spots that they are unable to fill. According to Town Manager Dan Holler, the Town is hoping to have a recruit out soon to fill the retired position at the very least.
The team has been trying to compensate, working in 12-hour shifts, 24 hours a day during the last storm.
In terms of which roads they choose to hit first, Hayes explained that there is a set route that the plow operators work. In general, the way they have prioritized the routes is as follows:
-Hospital and school roads
From there, volume of traffic determines the hierarchy for which roads come next.
This may explain why the side of Main Street heading towards the mountain is significantly more clear than the other side in the mornings: more people are driving that way than the opposite.
Hayes warned anyone who is sleeping in their cars during storms to not park in either Shady Rest or the Mammoth Scenic Loop; these are the last places to be plowed. The town has blocked entrances to these areas currently in order to avoid possible emergency search and rescue situations.
Mammoth Councilmembers mentioned the possibility of the Town creating “safe places” designated for those sleeping in their cars, where they would be able to park safely overnight. However, this plan will not be ready by this year’s snow season.
According to data from the most recent Mono County Needs Assessment, 25% of the county’s workforce were living in their cars. It is unknown how many are still doing so.
The pay scale for seasonal snow removal operators for the Town goes from $25.54 – $28.41 an hour.
The position requires a CDL – a “commercial driver’s license.” This includes needing to be 18 years or older, proof of identification, a medical examiner card, a Social Security card, and successfully completing and passing the CDL examination.
There are overtime pay opportunities, and even if there is light snow there are 40 hours of work a week guaranteed.
Despite decent pay and a steady work schedule, the Town has found it very difficult to recruit employees for the job.
The Council mentioned that this is not a problem specific to Mammoth Lakes; counties all around the state have been facing issues with employing enough staff to operate road maintenance vehicles.