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Cottonwood Heights to use govt plows after privatization complaints

Published December 6, 2013 9:42 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Cottonwood Heights' experiment with privatized snow removal will become a little less private this weekend as two government agencies step in to help residents left out in the cold during a recent storm.

City leaders announced a plan Thursday to bring in Salt Lake County to help plow streets and chip away hardened ice. The arrangement comes after residents and leaders alike slammed the response of Terracare — a private company hired earlier this fall to handle the city's public works — to a snowstorm that hit Tuesday.

Mayor Kelvyn Cullimore said Terracare's snow removal was poorly executed, while residents complained of unprecedented bad service and called the situation a failure for privatized public works.

Salt Lake County — which up until this year handled snow removal for Cottonwood Heights — will deploy up to four snowplows to clear Fort Union Boulevard, Highland Drive and Union Park Avenue. Salt Lake County Public Works Director Russ Wall said the plows will be out Friday, when the next storm is expected to arrive, and later as the city needs them.

The county uses a fleet of about 64 trucks to do snow removal for Taylorsville and Holladay and unincorporated parts of the county, Wall said. Helping out in Cottonwood Heights could stretch resources, though Wall said Taylorsville and Holladay approved of the plan to help out.

"There will be an impact," Wall said, "but we believe the impact will minimal, especially if we're only doing [Cottonwood Heights'] main roads."

Wall added that he was happy to help Cottonwood Heights because he believes in helping neighbors and because unplowed streets create safety and economic issues.

The Utah Department of Transportation also plans to provide "technical advice" and de-icing materials to Cottonwood Heights, according to spokesman John Gleason.

Cullimore said Terracare also would continue to plow streets Thursday night and Friday, as the company had done since the storm hit. Those plows will focus on residential streets and smaller roads, leaving the arterials to the government plows.

Terracare operates 10 snowplows in the city, though only five were deployed in the beginning hours of Tuesday's storm. The remaining plows were out by Tuesday night, but by then many streets were iced over, making plowing less effective.

In past years, Salt Lake County operated 11 plows in Cottonwood Heights. Wall said the plows were sold off when the county lost its contract with the city. The county offered to sell the plows to Terracare, Wall added, but the company turned down the offer.

The big question remaining as Friday's storm drew near was how much the added services would cost Cottonwood Heights. The city signed a three-and-a-half-year contract with Terracare, agreeing to pay $1.45 million for the first eight months of service.

But the newly-acquired resources pulled from Salt Lake County and UDOT will cost the city as well. Wall said the overall price will depend on how much work county employees do, though those employees who were already assigned to other areas will have to work extra hours to pick up the slack in Cottonwood Heights.

"There will be a considerable cost," he explained. "It'll cost the city more because we'll be billing them at overtime rates."

However, Cullimore argued that adding county and UDOT resources may not ultimately cost the city much extra cash. He said Terracare's inadequate response to Tuesday's snowstorm created the problem, so the company may have to shoulder some financial responsibility for bringing in extra plows.

"We recognize that Terracare has some liability here, and they recognize it as well," Cullimore said.

Cullimore also said the city has a rainy day fund to cover unforeseen costs.

However, city leaders Thursday had not worked out any financial arrangement with Terracare for the extra plows. Cullimore said everyone's priority was clearing streets and dealing with the coming storm and discussions over payment would have to come later.

Cullimore also said Terracare officials have assured him they will be prepared for future storms, though if their response doesn't improve their contract could be in jeopardy.

If Terracare did lose the contract, Salt Lake County would be happy to step back in and fill the void. Wall said the county enjoyed working with Cottonwood Heights in the past and, despite having sold off the resources it used in the city, would be willing to come back.

Wall also said that while he served as mayor of Taylorsville, he explored the possibility of privatizing public works but ultimately rejected the idea.

"It's very difficult for private contractors to do snowplow service," he said.

In a statement released Thursday, the city apologized for the recent snow removal problems and invited residents to reach out via email, Twitter and Facebook. The next City Council meeting is scheduled for Dec. 17.

jdalrymple@sltrib.com

Twitter: @jimmycdii