October 23, 2021

Homer plans to continue sidewalk snow removal

Village DPW works through last year’s challenges

S.N. Briere/staff reporter

Nick Casterline, with the Homer Village Department of Public Works, checks all the lights and accessories on the Ventrac snow removal machine. The village DPW is preparing its plows and salt trucks for sidewalk and road snow removal this season.

Homer Village Department of Public Works employees are preparing for a second year of sidewalk snow removal as snow is forecast to hit by the end of the week, perhaps by tonight.

Nick Casterline hopped in the Ventrac snow removal machine Monday to check that the lights and all accessories, including the plow, worked. Casterline is one of four DPW employees who can operate the machine, which will be used to remove snow on village sidewalks.

Barb Riley has lived on Cortland Street for more than 50 years and said she likes that the village is helping clear the sidewalks.

“It a good idea,” she said. “There’s a lot of people that walk in the winter.”

She noted that although her sidewalk got cleared frequently, she still had to get out and shovel a few times here and there — but not as much with the DPW helping out.

“I think it (the first year) went really well,” said Mayor Darren “Hal” McCabe.

McCabe announced in October 2018 the village DPW would be responsible for clearing all public sidewalks. It is a service that has not been provided to village residents since the 1960s or 1970s, McCabe said.

The service covers public sidewalks, but not residents’ driveways or personal walkways.

To clean the sidewalks, the village bought the Ventrac snow removal tractor with accessories for $49,000, McCabe said. It has an expected service life of 10 years.

Mike Harter, who oversees the DPW,, and McCabe said removal went pretty well, except for a few literal bumps along the way.

“There was a bit of a learning curve,” he said. “There’s a lot of sidewalks here to plow.”

McCabe said the first big bump was that not all the pieces to the machine came on time, leaving workers to plow sidewalks in the freezing temperatures. Those pieces included a cab and heating equipment to keep the driver warm.

“Our guys did freeze pretty badly out there,” McCabe said. “A couple of times the guys came back and their legs were frozen to machine.”

The village board helped resolve some of that issue last year by buying the workers better outerwear.This year, warmth shouldn’t be such a big problem, McCabe said because the DPW has all the pieces.

Uneven sidewalks were both a bump and learning curve, Harter said, as were water and gas valves that stick up from the sidewalks. This year, they’re marking those areas with reflective sticks.

The third challenge was getting routes down. Common routes to schools will continue to take top priority, with infrequently used sidewalks coming later, Harter said. That means sidewalks along Main Street, Clinton Street, Copeland Avenue and Central Park Place, along Homer Elementary School near the Village Green get plowed first.

“The village has been very responsive in the past to high traffic sidewalks being cleared in time for students,” Tom Turck, the superintendent of Homer Central School District, said in a statement Monday. “I am not aware of any situations where students needed to walk in the street because of unplowed sidewalks. If conditions are that bad, it tends to be a snow day.”

The most important thing Harter said should be stressed as they prepare for winter is that although the village is assisting with clearing sidewalks, homeowners are ultimately responsible for making sure their sidewalks are cleared.

He said if there was a time the village got a foot of snow “there’s no way we could possibly get to everybody’s sidewalks. Patience is a good thing to have here.”

Michael Kilmer, the director of the Elizabeth Brewster House on South Main Street, said they take care of their sidewalks and parking lot, but that he loves that the village is clearing the sidewalks, especially because it’s great for senior citizens.

“It definitely opens up a world other than the house,” he said. “It allows folks to get out and about.”