Storms challenge Cape Elizabeth Public Works employees, budget

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CAPE ELIZABETH — With storm after storm hitting Maine, Public Works employees are working harder than ever as their hours increase and budgets shrink.

“(Winter storms) are obviously having an effect on our budget,” Public Works Director Robert Malley said Wednesday, as his employees got ready for another blast of snow. “We’re spending a lot on overtime.”

Malley said he’s not sure exactly how much has been spent on winter storm cleanup and road maintenance, because the town has an annual budget, not a budget specifically for the winter.

This also means Malley doesn’t know how much is left in the budget, but he said Public Works is spending a lot of money on fuel for plow trucks, on salt and sand, and on overtime.

“Are we using those things faster than we usually do? Yes,” he said. “All of those things we’re using at an accelerated rate.”

Malley said if the rest of the winter season is calmer than it has been, it will help to balance the spending.

“If we have a quiet March, it’ll have a positive impact on the budget,” he said.

He said he doesn’t know how this winter compares to last winter in terms of spending, but that each year winter presents different challenges.

The biggest challenge by far this year has been the snow.

“The composition of the snow is light, but there’s a lot of it,” Malley said.

Malley said storms have been coming so frequently that a new one hits before snow from the previous storm is cleaned up. He said this makes it hard to stay on top of things.

“We haven’t had the opportunity to haul and move snow,” he said. “There’s not enough time.”

Malley said plowing during storms has also been difficult because visibility has been bad. He said between the heavy snowfall and the wind, it can be difficult for plow drivers to see where they’re going, which means they have to work more slowly.

He said the departgment’s equipment is working well, and vehicles have required no more maintenance than usual.

“If you use something day in and day out, there’s more wear and tear,” Malley said. “But they’re holding up.”

A plow truck did tip over while clearing the streets on Feb. 5, but Malley said the vehicle wasn’t damaged.

He said one of the biggest challenges this winter has been the demand that overtime places on employees. He said he appreciates all of the extra time crews have put in and that he knows it’s been rough.

“We’ve had a very busy season and it’s challenging for the staff,” he said. “They’ve needed to have more stamina.”

Malley said when storms hit on weekends or at night, they cost more because of overtime. He said the crews have also made many sacrifices this season.

“There have been a lot of sleepless nights,” he said. “They’ve had limited time off between storms.”

Malley said what he and his crew need is a lull in the weather; not only so they can rest, but so a thorough cleanup can be accomplished throughout the town.

Kate Gardner can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or kgardner@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @katevgardner.

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Cape Elizabeth Public Works employees spent Wednesday afternoon preparing for the storm that started later that evening.

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I'm a reporter for The Forecaster covering Freeport, Yarmouth, Chebeague Island, and Cape Elizabeth. I'm from a small town in NH no one's ever heard of. When not reporting, I can be found eating pasta and reading books, often at the same time.