LEWISTON – Zac Chickering was busy early Monday morning, shoveling the front steps of the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul.

“When I volunteered to do this job, I was not expecting this much snow in December, but I still like doing it,” the Lewiston man said.

He wasn’t alone moving as much as seven inches of snow from Maine’s most recent storm, a storm that has made December 2007 one of the snowiest on record.

Norway’s town manager, David Holt, said the uncharacteristically high volume of snow has meant extra hours for the highway department. “They’ve been out pretty steadily, more than I can remember in recent times for sure,” Holt said.

Bill Swain, communications director at Sugarloaf USA, called the 70 inches of natural snowfall on the mountain this month fantastic.

“There’s no real comparison to last December. Last December was a challenging weather year,” but this year “folks are coming out in large numbers” to enjoy the mountain, he said.

Sunday River communications manager Alex Kaufman is equally enthusiastic, with 74 inches of natural snowfall at the Newry mountain. Besides natural snowfall, Sunday River has had the snow guns working steadily. “The base right now is between 2 and 5 feet, depending on where you are,” he said, comparing the steady December snow “like being dealt four aces as far as the holiday week’s concerned.”

While the ski lodges in resorts across the state are filling up and the trails are groomed and busy, which is good for the ski resorts and surrounding snow-dependent businesses, the cost of snow removal has become a concern for local towns.

In Farmington, Town Manager Richard Davis said his highway department has cleared snow from what he called 18 snow “events” so far this season, compared to 23 snow events during all of last year. “Our sand usage is pretty high,” Davis said, and “we’ve used almost half of our winter supplies already.”

Besides the possibility of having to buy more sand, towns are grappling with the overtime costs to keep plow crews on the road.

In Norway, Holt is hoping the snow tapers soon so his crews can get some rest.

In Farmington, where overtime costs are mounting, Davis said he may have to revisit the budget if the snowfall continues at December’s pace.

In Auburn, assistant Public Works Director Sid Hazelton said the cost of fuel, budgeted at $2 per gallon and now costing $3 per gallon, is pinching the city’s budget, as is overtime and the mounting cost of road salt.

The city had budgeted something in the mid-$40 range per ton of salt, but the cost is closer to $56 per ton because the fuel cost to move it by truck is more expensive than anticipated.

“I can safety say that if this winter continues like it is it is going to concern every town, and we are right there with them,” Hazelton said, especially when overtime comes at holiday rates as it may with another storm is expected to move through Maine today.

In Mexico, Public Works Director David Errington estimates 40 percent of the town’s sand, salt and overtime account has already been spent.

In Dixfield, Public Works Director Tim Hanson also estimates that about half the winter sand stores have been used, with his crew averaging about 15 hours of overtime apiece during each of the recent storms. Hanson said he believes the River Valley area has received more snow so far this year than it has in the past 37 years, with something close to 40 inches of snowfall over the past month.

In Rumford, where the budget has also been hit by unexpected overtime costs, the town’s grader broke down during the last storm, becoming an extra burden on that town’s budget. That vehicle had been used to clear snow from Falls Hill to Mexico, and the streets in Rumford’s downtown, so Public Works Director Andy Russell said the town will have to rent a grader until the old one is repaired.

Jerome Guevremont, superintendent of the wastewater treatment plant in Rangeley, estimates 52.7 inches of snowfall for the month, compared to 9.7 inches in December last year, and 68.5 inches for all of the 2006-07 winter season.

Snow is expected to fall throughout the region today into Wednesday, with as much as 10 inches expected in Lewiston. When the snow clears, the temperatures are expected to drop, continuing another trend that started in December – unseasonably low temperatures.

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