Arrow-right Camera

Voices

City buys trucks for snow

Sat., Sept. 19, 2009, midnight

Poe Asphalt mechanic’s assistant D.J. Edwards changes an air filter on one of  six used plow-sander trucks  the city of Spokane Valley purchased from the state Department of Transportation. The city plans on using the trucks to plow snow this winter. (PHOTOS BY J. BART RAYNIAK / The Spokesman-Review)
Poe Asphalt mechanic’s assistant D.J. Edwards changes an air filter on one of six used plow-sander trucks the city of Spokane Valley purchased from the state Department of Transportation. The city plans on using the trucks to plow snow this winter. (PHOTOS BY J. BART RAYNIAK / The Spokesman-Review)

Private company will run, maintain vehicles

Spokane Valley now has its own fleet of snowplows to take over where Spokane County left off last winter.

A half-dozen used trucks, purchased from the Washington Department of Transportation for $109,600, are being inspected and serviced by the city’s street-maintenance contractor, Poe Asphalt Paving in Post Falls.

The big, mint-green diesels will get Spokane Valley logos but no new paint.

They’re part of the city’s short-term plan to replace the snow-plowing contract that Spokane County has canceled. The city will pay Poe to operate its trucks and provide additional equipment while officials seek proposals for a long-term contract.

First, Poe must make sure the state-surplus trucks are ready for winter.

“We’re going to follow the same steps as the state has,” said John Cushman, equipment manager for the Clarkston-based company.

That includes replacing brake parts as well as oil, filters, light bulbs and the like. Sand and the sticky, corrosive liquids used to keep sand on icy roads are hard on brakes, Cushman said.

Poe mechanics also will have to install plow blades and sander boxes on four of the trucks, which were fitted with dump-truck beds for summer road maintenance when they were delivered last week.

The rigs will be “more than capable” of meeting the city’s needs, Cushman said, noting the trucks and their 12-foot-wide blades are designed for heavy-duty service at highway speeds.

“I think it was a really good acquisition for the city just because they’re built so strong,” Cushman said. “And the trucks have been well taken care of.”

Another advantage, he said, is that “the state has done a lot of research on what works best, so the city isn’t reinventing anything.”

In municipal use, the 1995-vintage trucks with around 92,000 miles on their odometers could easily last five years, he said. “Shoot, they could last 20 years if the city wanted to put the money into repairing instead of replacing them.”

So far, Cushman said, he and his staff have seen only routine problems such as shredded mud flaps and a few oil leaks.

Eventually, maintenance work will be done at the city’s new 1.6-acre maintenance yard at 11720 E. First Ave., which the city is leasing from Waste Management for $50,340 a year. But the yard is undergoing city-paid improvements and isn’t ready yet, so Poe is preparing the plow trucks at its Post Falls facility.

“We’re just trying to get a jump on this,” Cushman said. “Everything has to be ready by Nov. 1.”

The yard-improvement and truck-maintenance work are being done under a $90,073 addendum to Poe’s contract for summer street maintenance, while city and company officials negotiate another agreement in which Poe will operate the city’s plowing program.

The deal calls for the company to continue maintaining the city-owned trucks and for it to provide front-end loaders and other equipment, including road graders that cost more than $300,000 apiece.

Cushman said graders are useful for snow-removal because their hydraulically powered blades can be driven downward to break through compacted snow and ice. A truck can only push its front-mounted plow blade.

Graders also can clear a wider swath. A standard grader blade is 14 feet wide, but Cushman said Poe has acquired two used “wing” blades that add 12 feet. New wings would cost more than $25,000 apiece, but Poe picked up the used ones for about $10,000 each.

The six-truck, two-grader lineup closely matches what Spokane County provided.

City Public Works Director Neil Kersten said he intends to buy two thousand-gallon tanks for liquid deicer. The tanks, which cost around $9,000 apiece, would be mounted in the standard beds of two of the dump trucks acquired from the state.

Also still to go, the city plans to hire a professional trainer for Poe’s drivers. Although they’re all qualified to drive such “Class 8” trucks, Cushman said Poe employees don’t have a lot of experience at plowing and sanding roads.

“We didn’t plan or foresee getting into this business,” Cushman said. “But we have a great relationship with Spokane Valley, and they asked us for help to solve a problem.”

The arrangement should be good for both parties, he said. Besides not having to buy some of the expensive equipment it will need, the city will avoid the need to hire full-time employees for intermittent work.

Spokane Valley’s reluctance to pay employees when there is no snow to plow was one of the issues that led Spokane County to cancel the city’s snow-removal contract. Poe employees will have to be compensated for being on standby, but the city won’t have to pay their full wages unless they’re working.

“Our guys are laid off in the winter, so they’re used to that,” Cushman said. “Being on call is a great thing.”

He said picking up some extra hours in the winter will help workers remain qualified for medical benefits.

Details of the arrangement are still being negotiated. Kersten hopes to present a labor contract proposal to the City Council next month.



There is one comment on this story »