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BusINess » Business Government » Million dollar storm

Million dollar storm

Snow melts last week in the Walmart parking lot in Highland. Warming temperatures helped gradually melt the 20 inches dumped on the region at the beginning of the month. (Photograph by Jonathan Miano/The Times.)

Snow melts last week in the Walmart parking lot in Highland. Warming temperatures helped gradually melt the 20 inches dumped on the region at the beginning of the month. (Photograph by Jonathan Miano/The Times.)

Two weeks after the Blizzard of 2011, many communities were just finishing cleaning up, with a little help from higher temperatures that caused most of the snow to melt gradually, preventing flooding.

Lake and Porter counties were hit with more than 20 inches of snow, high winds and bitter cold over several days starting Feb. 1. The estimated cleanup tab is at least $1,334,249.

While Porter County is waiting to see if some costs will be reimbursed by federal agencies, the state of emergency declared by Lake County will allow the towns of Highland, Griffith and Munster to recoup about 75 percent of eligible costs from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Munster topped the list of money spent in Lake County on storm cleanup. According to a memo to Munster’s Town Council from Town Manager Tom DeGiulio, costs eligible for reimbursement from Jan. 31 through Feb. 7 totaled $135,126. Labor was $49,000 and equipment costs were $30,387. Materials used came to $31,216, while fees paid for contractual services were $24,523.

Planning for the blizzard began Jan. 31, the Monday before the heavy snow fell, DeGiulio said. An emergency warming shelter was set up at the Centennial Park Clubhouse in case of power outages. With no outages, the clubhouse instead provided food for public works crews, firefighters and police personnel. Wages, including overtime, contracted services, equipment and materials such as road salt and fuel figured into the preliminary costs.

Porter County Highway Superintendent Al Hoagland said it cost the county $192,728—on salaries and overtime, supplies such as slag, sand, salt and calcium chloride, and diesel fuel and gasoline—to combat the storm. Unless the county gets hit with two or three more big storms, Hoagland thinks it will have enough supplies and money to get to spring.

The storm “put a sizable dent into our overtime account,” he said, adding he would ask the county for additional funding for overtime. Porter County’s Highway Department is responsible for 831 miles of roads in unincorporated areas.

Crown Point officials compiled the numbers for the Lake County Emergency Management agency to seek a disaster-area declaration for the region, said Chief of Staff Keith Stevens. Crown Point tallied close to $70,000 in costs. City employees worked 1,615 overtime hours for a total $42,065 in pay, Stevens said. City plows and other equipment logged 1,326 hours. Fuel costs amounted to slightly more than $9,500. The cost of materials totaled $15,970.

Highland Public Works Director John Bach said the town’s preliminary costs for snow removal are estimated to be $66,386. The $56,386 for the Public Works Department included $21,900 for wages and $7,236 for contracted services. Crews used 416 tons of road salt costing $52.50 per ton for a total of $21,840. Another $5,410 was spent on fuel.

In addition, the Highland Police and Fire departments each spent approximately $2,000 on overtime. The town’s parks department also reported $6,000 in blizzard-related costs.

Griffith estimates snow removal costs at just more than $47,000, said Rick Konopasek, public works director. Labor, equipment breakdowns, fuel and salt costs figured into that preliminary estimate, he said. “That includes public works, the parks department, police and fire and private contractors,” Konopasek said.

“We have 60 miles of roads in addition to alleys,” he said. “Our crews worked two 12-hour shifts. We cleared the main streets first, then the secondary streets. We had the alleys done by Thursday morning so people could go to work.”

St. John incurred approximately $45,000 in costs, including overtime pay and contracted snow removal for the blizzard and cleanup afterward, Town Manager Steve Kil said.

Schererville spent about $112,000 on equipment, overtime and contractors in response to the blizzard, Public Works Director Jeff Huet said. He said 48 hours after the storm, 90 percent of streets were cleared. Within 72 hours, 95 percent of the town had the snow cleared back to the mailboxes.

Lake Station spent approximately $84,602 in blizzard-related costs, Mayor Keith Soderquist said. That preliminary figure includes overtime pay and “anything related to snow removal,” Soderquist said. Soderquist, who said he’s already applied for federal funds, said if none of the city’s costs is reimbursed, “it will put a large dent in our salt and labor budget.”

New Chicago Clerk-Treasurer Lori Reno said the approximately $8,400 the town spent on blizzard-related costs includes labor, salt, fuel and repairs to the town’s limited snow removal equipment.

“We ran our truck around the clock,” Reno said.

“It hurts,” Hobart Mayor Brian Snedecor said of the approximately $62,000 spent on the blizzard, including removing snow and expanding garbage pickup. “We’ll have to try and find the money somewhere else.”

The cost of clearing Hammond’s 320 miles of streets after the storm? About $33,000 in overtime costs for city workers on top of $47,000 for contractors, said Rick Calinski, chief of staff for Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. Damage to equipment cost the city another $17,000 and the city used more than a million pounds of salt during the storm.

Valparaiso, Kouts and Hebron officials said the impact of one storm was within their budgets. The blizzard cost Valparaiso $85,000, Kouts $4,577, and Hebron estimated it spent $13,645. Valparaiso Public Works Director Matt Evans broke the bill down as $27,300 for labor, $35,700 for equipment, $17,200 for salt (242 tons) and $4,900 for fuel. While a hefty tab, Evans said it didn’t have a significant impact on the overall budget to cause concern.

Kouts’ bill was made up only of salt, $1,505, and fuel and equipment, $3,072. The labor is covered under a contract the city has with MCO for operating the street department.

Labor was the biggest part of Hebron’s cost at $5,508 followed by equipment rentals, which totaled $4,900. The 40 tons of salt the town used cost $1,413, and Public Works Director Jim Shelhart said fuel costs came to $1,824.

In Portage, the blizzard cost the city $54,440.81, according to Fire Chief Tom Fieffer. The costs are based on a formula for emergency use of manpower and equipment. Fieffer said the figures will be turned over to the Porter County Emergency Management Agency for possible submission to FEMA. The highest costs incurred were by the city’s street department, at $34,891.54. Of that, $21,619.54 was for manpower and the rest was for equipment. The cost to the Fire Department, which doubled its on-duty staffing and apparatus for two days, was $17,645.98. Equipment use was the largest expense at $11,352 and manpower costs were $6,293.98. The park department also pitched in at a cost of $1,903.29 cents during the blizzard.

Fieffer said the Police Department reported no additional expenses due to the blizzard.

Chesterton Street Commissioner John Schnadenberg said the storm took “a hard hit on our budget. The problem we’ve had this year, as have all other municipalities, is we’ve had a lot of call outs from smaller storms, so that on top of the big storm, plus the 6 inches we got after the blizzard that they didn’t forecast, will take a significant toll. It can add up rather quickly when you’re working around the clock.”

He said the total cost was $27,868, including overtime.

Porter Public Works Director Brenda Brueckheimer said much of its unanticipated cost came from equipment breakdowns: “We estimate that we used 100 tons of salt at a cost of $6,200; we used about $3,850 in overtime hours; fuel costs were about $1,200; and equipment repair cost us about $2,500, including repairs for a drive shaft, repair for 2-inch hydraulic lines on a dump truck, three tire repairs, a heater motor on a dump truck, and a wiper blade motor on a dump.”

In Burns Harbor, Street Commissioner Randy Skalku said, “We didn’t have any breakdowns, but we spent $1,971 in overtime pay. We used about 35 tons of salt and spent about $600 on fuel. It will surely impact our budget because our budget isn’t big at all. We’re still working with the town Fire Department and Police Department to combine totals to send in for FEMA relief,” Skalku said.

Other towns in Lake County spent the following amounts on the blizzard:

Merrillville: $110,000

Dyer: $49,546

Cedar Lake: $4,000

Winfield: $20,140

Lowell: $25,000

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