LEWISTON — A smaller Public Works staff could lead to delays in clearing snow from city streets this winter.
City councilors heard a report Tuesday from Highway Division Operations Manager John Elie about the city's strategy for plowing roads this winter.
A heavy winter could hit city streets hard, Elie said.
"The biggest problem we are going to have this year is B-team coverage," Elie told councilors. "When we have a really long storm, we are going to have to park equipment. People sometimes wonder, 'Hey, where's my plow?' Well, it's parked."
Snowplow and sanding crews work in two 16-hour shifts during storms, an A shift and a B shift. Those crews are tasked with clearing snow and spreading sand on 394 lane miles.
The A shift goes first, using 34 pieces of equipment — plows, sanding trucks, sidewalk plows and loaders — to clear snow and sand 22 routes and four sidewalk plow routes across the city.
The B shift takes over after 16 hours, but Elie said the city does not have as many people working the B shift. That means that 15 pieces of equipment — nine plows, one road sander, one pit loader and four sidewalk plows — are parked while the B shift is on duty.
The remaining B shift crews and equipment do their best to cover the city, but it's a struggle.
"The result is that the streets these units are responsible for won't get plowed until at least several hours later than usual," he said. "Some streets they are responsible for might not even get plowed until the next day."
The smaller Public Works staff is because of employees who quit or retired over the past several years and were not replaced. Staff warned of similar issues last year, too, he said.
Last winter, the city had 10 plowable winter storms that were over quickly. The average winter has 13 plowable storms with twice as much snow. Forecasters are predicting a stormier winter this year, he said.
"If the winter is at least average, or worse, we will be parking units," Elie said. "Some of the things we predicted last year may actually come true if we have a hard winter."