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Sunday, April 5, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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New Spokane streets director battles floods, potholes and snow; earns council’s approval

Gary Kaesemeyer, Spokane’s new street director, waits to speak during a meeting on Monday, March 27, 2017, at City Hall in Spokane, Wash. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Gary Kaesemeyer, Spokane’s new street director, waits to speak during a meeting on Monday, March 27, 2017, at City Hall in Spokane, Wash. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

Heavy snowfall, a pothole epidemic and the encroaching waters of the Spokane River have marked Gary Kaesemeyer’s short tenure as acting head of the city’s streets department.

“It’s been challenging for the whole city,” the 59-year-old veteran of the city’s Stormwater Department said Monday. “We’ve just had a heck of a spring here, and a long winter. It’s been challenging for the employees, I think.”

The City Council rewarded Kaesemeyer’s early work Monday night, unanimously confirming Mayor David Condon’s appointment to be streets director. He had been acting director since February.

City Councilwoman Amber Waldref, the chair of the committee overseeing public works, praised Kaesemeyer for quickly adapting to the demands of the job from his role as wastewater maintenance superintendent.

“He brings a lot of good experience managing a large team,” Waldref said.

“You’re permanent now, Gary,” City Council President Ben Stuckart quipped, pointing outside the council chamber. “The shovel’s out there.”

Taking over for Mark Serbousek, who’s in line to return to his assignment as the city’s bridge engineer, Kaesemeyer has been charged with evaluating how the city fills its pockmarked streets and drafting new priorities for snow removal. The U.S. Marine Corps veteran and Rogers High School graduate briefed the council on the progress of both tasks Monday afternoon before his confirmation.

Kaesemeyer told council members he would meet this week with representatives from Spokane International Airport to talk about pothole filling and snow removal, following the City Council’s insistence on collaboration during plowing. The city should start exploring adding snow removal equipment now for next winter, Kaesemeyer told the council, to avoid paying too much or finding themselves without the necessary tools when another snow season hits.

“There were a lot of comments about, what can we do without spending additional money,” Kaesemeyer said. “That’s going to have to be one of the strong recommendations, about what we can do without laying out additional money.”

Kaesemeyer said the city had filled 2,549 potholes around the city as of Thursday, half of those since the last week of February. The city is looking at buying two additional pothole trailers, allowing the trucks that pull them to be used for something else outside of the street repair months, he said.

City crews using an aggregate mix with rented trucks have had a lot of success filling potholes, Kaesemeyer said, because it adheres better and is less expensive than other options. Kaesemeyer predicted that may be the most cost-effective strategy to solving the pothole challenges of this season and in the future.

“It has a real long life span in the street,” he said, between five and seven years before degrading. A financial report on the cost of each tested strategy will be available as early as next month, he said.

Kaesemeyer, who started as a laborer in the city’s wastewater department in 1982, praised the city’s street employees for working long hours after a particularly trying winter that drew a lot of public attention.

“I’ve been surprised by the media attention,” Kaesemeyer said. “Every night you turn on the nightly news, or pick up the paper in the morning, and there’s a story about snowplowing or potholes. We don’t really have that much media scrutiny in the wastewater area.”

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