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Disaster Deficits Cleanup Expenses Piling Up After Last Month’s Ice Storm Calamity

Regional road workers used up a year’s worth of overtime in two weeks.

Post Falls street crews rented graders from a Spokane company when that city’s 30-year-old model couldn’t do the job.

Coeur d’Alene may hire contractors to trim dangling limbs from some damaged trees.

While last month’s ice storm disaster officially ended Sunday, taxpayers will be footing its bill for quite awhile.

The tab from local government is not yet in, but bureaucrats already are warning that manpower costs for street work and cleanup from the storm will be high.

“It’s going to be a pretty big number,” said Coeur d’Alene Finance Director John Austin.

Karen Hinson, the Lake City’s urban forester, said it could be years before workers finish thinning trees damaged by the storm.

In Post Falls, two $1,500-per-week graders are still being used to clean streets, and the cemetery sexton was pulled from his regular duties to plow snow.

“We’re a small city,” said Post Falls Public Works Director Bill Madigan. “We did what we could.”

While Kootenai County declared a disaster in the wake of the storm, Commissioner Dick Compton said that won’t likely cover any related costs.

“You do it so you’re protected from liability,” he said. “If we had to hire some extra people to plow roads or get equipment without going to bid, it covers your risk.”

But most government representatives said the out-of-pocket cost to taxpayers likely will be minimal. Instead, officials may make up the cost by making fewer summer road repairs.

Tim Nigh, road supervisor with the Worley Highway District, said his 10 plow drivers had to split time last month between snow removal and sawing trees that had fallen on roadways.

“Our board doesn’t like us to have people working more than 12 hours at a time, but all our crews were out 16, 17 hours a day,” Nigh said.

The district typically allots $15,000 a year for overtime - all of which now is gone.

The same holds true for the East Side and Lakes highway districts.

“Wednesday night we worked from 6 in the morning until about 5 in the morning Thanksgiving day - 23 hours straight,” said Lakes supervisor Mark Sodderling.

Sodderling said the added cost likely will be made up throughout the year.

“We’ll just cut back someplace,” he said. “We’ll rob Peter to pay Paul.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo

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