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The days are shorter, the air is colder and snow is beginning to frost the tops of the mountains around Wrangell.

Winter is on its way and the Public Works department is getting prepared by winterizing its vehicles and watching for icy roads.

Public Works Director Carl Johnson says the transition from fall to winter is a busy time for his department.

Public Works – Photo by Shady Grove Oliver/KSTK

Despite not knowing exactly when the first snowstorm and cold snap will hit, Johnson says Public Works has to be ready.

“We’ve had winters where November was non-stop snow and ice. That’s a little unusual for us. We’ve had winters where we didn’t really have any snow until Christmas. It just really depends.”

He says the first thing Public Works does is expedites any last repairs that need to be done around town. That way, they’re finished before weather becomes an issue.

There is one project on the table Johnson says he’d like to see completed soon.

“We hope to replace the water line on the upper end of Weber Street before winter really gets in full force.”

But, he says, his department needs to talk with the neighborhood to ensure the repairs are as smooth as possible for people on that water main.

“Well, before we can do Weber Street, we need to coordinate with all of the homeowners up there because we need to put them on temporary water. That water main will be shut down for a week or two, so they’ll be on temporary water and that will require some coordination.”

The first winter preparations Public Works did about a month ago was with the city’s fire hydrants.

“To start off with, in early October, we winterize our fire hydrants. It was a little extra work this year because we did a lot of hydrant testing and flow testing. Some of our hydrants don’t drain so we have to pump the water out. The hydrants that do drain—we have to make sure they’re draining properly.”

With about 230 hydrants in town each requiring individual prepping, it can take quite a bit of time.

Johnson says the fleet of Public Works vehicles also gets weatherized.

“We try to wait as long as we can but we changed some tires on some of our snow-removal equipment. We’ve chained up one of our graders. We have loaders that have to be chained up. We have plow trucks that have to have plows put on and the sander and chemical tanks put on them.”

The reason they wait as long as possible for those winter vehicle upgrades is that once the equipment is weatherized—it stays that way through the end of the season.

Johnson says that means sometimes they can no longer be used to do non-winter jobs. If they winterize too soon, they don’t have as many vehicles to work with until the weather gets bad.

And Public Works keeps a close eye on the weather—specifically, so they can make the roads as safe as possible for residents.

“As far as winter road conditions, at this time we don’t see much snow but we’ll start to see frost and ice and slick patches on the road where we might put down some of our chemicals or do a little bit of sanding. There’s not usually much plowing for a little while yet.”

Johnson says Public Works has to know the weather before it happens.

“Just watching the forecasts and if it’s going to be cold overnight or likely to be icy, we might put chemicals on the road. That comes before the sanding, really.”

Johnson says there are a few other projects he’s hoping to wrap up before the real winter weather hits. He says while it is a bit hectic, it’s the same routine every year.

“You try to get as much as you possibly can done before all the equipment gets tied up in snow removal and the weather changes. You never get everything done that you want and it’s kind of that scramble at the end of fall to get as much as you can done.”

And winter is on the doorstep, with the first flakes of snow forecast later this week.

KSTK will bring you updates on the Weber Street water main repairs as we have them.