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Jefferson City and Cole County Public Works Departments say winter weather staffing amid COVID is a major concern

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (KMIZ)

With the threat of winter weather right around the corner, Jefferson City and Cole County are starting to gear up for another year of treating the roads.

This year presents different challenges for both public works departments, but of the major concerns both are working to address is staffing issues related to COVID-19

COVID-19 Staffing Concerns

As the pandemic continues to surge in Mid-Missouri, schools, hospitals and city services have had to pull back as people become infected, or are asked to quarantine because of exposure.

The new director of Cole County Public Works Eric Landwehr said this is a new and major challenge facing the department.

"You just can't imagine having half of your crew out just at any given time so we've had to think about that going into this," Landwehr said.

The department uses about 32 employees during a winter weather event.

There are "relief drivers" available that are trained to use the equipment that Landwehr said will hopefully alleviate some staffing concerns if several of their employees are out.

"We hire them and pay them hourly to come in, they are trained and experienced in plowing snow and we'll bring them in to get us by until we can get our full crew out," Landwehr said.

He also mentioned that the job lends itself to social distancing, as the drivers head out on the roads by themselves.

Jefferson City Public Works Operation Division Director Britt Smith has the same concern, saying staffing is one of his biggest concerns going into the winter months.

Smith said their department also has backup staff and plans in place to work with a small crewer, but that could delay the roads being cleared.

"That's more hours on that smaller staff, and that's also more time more time on the public to be dealing with roads that aren't in as good as conditions as we want them to be," Smith said.

The department says nearly 50 employees are needed to battle climate winter weather, which includes plow operators, along with other divisions like parking, airport, and transit.

Jefferson City Preparations

Smith said it's hard to predict what kind of weather and need there will be, so his crews are prepping for the worst, but hope it's a smooth winter.

Smith said they are currently stocking up on their chemical supplies. The department is starting with 3,500 tons of rock salt, and have contracts to get more as that supply lessens. They also have "liquid calcium" which helps the salt work better in lower temperatures.

"We are feeling pretty comfortable with our stocks right now, but of course that all depends on how much snow we get," Smith said.

One of the biggest concerns for the department right now is aging equipment.

"We're finding a lot of issues, our fleet has aged over the years," Smith said. "We unfortunately have not been able to fund very many fleet replacements."

He said 10 out of the 13 the heavy-duty pickup trucks are past their life expectancy, and finding wear and tear on other equipment.

"Salt and vehicles don't get along, but salt and a snowplow, there's no way to stop that," Smith said. "Rust has become our enemy here."

The department has presented these issues to the city's public works and planning committee. Smith said funding is an issue, so he's not sure when they may be able to replace some of the equipment. He said he's grateful for the council's work to balance the budget for all of the needs in the city.

"With the condition of a fleet like that, I hope people understand that does slow us down," Smith said. "But we are going to get it up and running as fast as we can and back on the road."

Cole County Preparations

Landwehr said from reports, this winter may not be as bad as last year, but the department is still prepping for whatever comes through Mid-Missouri.

"Our crews are always prepared any time a snowstorm is coming, and it doesn't take a whole lot of time to get ready for it, give or take a day or so," Landwehr said.

Cole County uses salt, calcium chloride, and sometimes sand depending on storm to treat the roads. Landwehr said they are fully stocked going into the winter and can get more once the weather starts to deplete those resources.

Watch ABC17 News at 9 and 10 for a full report

Cole / Coronavirus / Jefferson City / Top Stories / Top Stories / Weather / Winter Weather

Connor Hirsch

Connor Hirsch reports for the weekday night shows, as well as Sunday nights.

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