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Fewer snow plow drivers in Duluth

Duluth will have four fewer snowplow drivers this winter, city officials say. The question is whether the city's cutbacks will result in delays in getting streets plowed. The city not only is approaching winter with fewer snowplow operators than ...

Duluth will have four fewer snowplow drivers this winter, city officials say.

The question is whether the city's cutbacks will result in delays in getting streets plowed.

The city not only is approaching winter with fewer snowplow operators than last year, but, like last year, drivers will have to quit plowing after 12-hour shifts, instead of their previous 16-hour limit.

The city has 25 snowplow operators, down from the 29 in recent years.

The reduction of four drivers might be noticed, but it shouldn't make too much difference, said retired public works director Dick Larson.

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"Streets will still get plowed," he said. "But instead of taking 12 hours, it might take 18. It used to take 30 hours to clear the city; now maybe it's 35 hours. Most people are going to get to work on time. It depends on when the snow begins and ends."

But city officials -- and even some snowplow drivers -- are more optimistic.

"Yes, we have fewer people, but they're better trained and we have better

equipment," said John Grandson, the city's maintenance operations manager. "I don't think the public will notice any difference. That's our goal."

A report in a local blog this week that the city is eliminating overtime and weekend work for snowplow operators is not true, Grandson and Mayor Don Ness said.

"We will be responding when there's snow," Ness said. "We will use overtime. We want to limit the 12-hour shifts as a safety measure."

That shift cap, however, is a bone of contention among the drivers who want to retain the option of working 16-hour shifts. Time will tell whether that conflict will affect worker turnout during weekend snow emergencies.

The city plans to supplement its snow removal team with workers from other divisions, such as parks maintenance, utilities, even the fire department by training them to operate snowplows, Grandson and Ness say.

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Such an approach isn't new. Before winter, a list is generally circulated among city departments. Qualified employees can sign up for snowplow training to become part of the back-up team.

While plow trucks are used to open up snow-filled streets, the big road graders that come through later are more complicated, Larson said.

"Graders require an awful lot of skill," he said. "The plow blade can move back and forth and up and down. All those road graders have wing plows. Manipulating these on narrow streets requires a great deal of experience."

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