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Reilly Dumas | Courtesy A tractor plows hardened snow in Cottonwood Heights near the corner of Fort Union Blvd. and Promenade Dr.
Cottonwood Heights says it has fine-tuned snow removal

Winter » Private company that clears city’s streets has added plows and refined its strategy.

First Published Jan 07 2014 09:54 pm • Last Updated Jan 08 2014 07:12 am

A Utah city has made some "big mistakes" it’s months-long experiment with privatized snow removal, according to the mayor, but town leaders hope new strategic changes will help turn things around.

City leaders in Cottonwood Heights met with officials from Colorado-based Terracare on Tuesday night to discuss improved snow removal routes, a handful of new plows and other improvements. The changes were discussed in a presentation from Terracare director of operations Bill Winfield and manager Loran Gillen, and generally elicited a positive response from council members and Mayor Kelvyn Cullimore.

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"I think we’re poised to do significantly better than we have been," Cullimore said.

The meeting came about a month after the first complaints about the newly-privatized snow removal started pouring in. After the first significant storm of the year blanketed the city in snow, streets went unplowed for days. Cullimore also criticized Terracare’s response, saying the Colorado-based company "went on stage for the first time and they forgot their lines" and initially only deployed four of its 10 plows during the storm.

When the city posted a statement on its website about snow removal, it also became the second-most visited part of the site in December — followed only by the city’s home page.

During Tuesday’s meeting, Winfield and Gillen explained why they believed that same situation wouldn’t happen again. Among other things, the company now has 12 plows in the city, with another about to ship in from Colorado. Negotiations also are wrapping up on a 14th plow and, according to Winfield, the company is now prepared to hire subcontractors — or, private citizens with access to their own plows — if storms get particularly intense.

The company also developed a new plowing strategy since the first storms slammed Cottonwood Heights. In the new system, major roads and arterials are "priority one" locations, with other parts of the city falling into a series of lower priority areas. Terracare will have plows on major streets during storms, but the system will also mean some plows will hit collector and residential streets during storms.

Another change includes moving the staging yard for Terracare trucks from West Valley City to Cottonwood Heights. The yard will be used by drivers when they begin or end their shifts, inspect their trucks and perform other tasks, which Winfield said would cut down the time it takes to change drivers.

"The new staging yard should cut down on turn around time," Winfield added during his presentation.

Winfield and Gillen also explained that they have recently refined their drivers’ schedules so they work from midnight to noon and then from noon to midnight, depending on their shift. In the past, drivers worked from 2 a.m. to 2 p.m. meaning they were changing shifts, and leaving the road, right before schools let out.


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Taken together, the Terracare officials said the new changes could mean up to 20 more hours of plowing in Cottonwood Heights — or nearly the same increase as would happen by adding a plow to the fleet.

Cullimore said Tuesday he still believes Terracare has the ability to provide quality service to Cottonwood Heights and that many of the problems stemmed from a lack of familiarity with the area.

"They’ve improved a lot," Cullimore added of the company’s recent performance. "But have they improved enough? We’ll find out."

Cottonwood Heights signed a 3½ year contract with Terracare for public works including snow removal, road construction and other duties. The city agreed to pay Terracare $1.45 million for the first eight months of the contract.

Cullimore said Tuesday that Terracare has been absorbing the costs of ramping up their efforts in Cottonwood Heights.

Terracare President Dean Murphy acknowledged in December that his company’s response to the first snowstorm had been inadequate. He said the company was still learning which routes were the most significant to the city and which areas tend to receive the most snow.

The city had previously contracted with Salt Lake County for snow removal. The city was not unhappy with the county’s services, Cullimore said in December, but decided to privatize anyway in hopes of getting more value and flexibility for their money.

Cullimore said that began to happen during a smaller storm last week. The plowing happened mostly as planned, Cullimore said, and he only received three complaints from residents. When one man told him the street, which has been plowed, was slippery, Cullimore called Terracare and had a driver redo the street.

After the company botched the response to the year’s first snowstorm, Salt Lake County returned to Cottonwood Heights, stepping in to provided additional plowing on major roads. However, the county also vowed that the bail out was a one-time-only opportunity. Cullimore revealed Tuesday that the county had offered to permanently return to the city in a limited capacity, but the contract would have been extremely expensive.

City officials are now waiting to see how Terracare’s new efforts translate on the streets. Cullimore and various other city officials expressed optimism that as the company’s familiarity with the area grew they would be able to provide the same quality of service that residents previously enjoyed. However, Cullimore added that time would tell if the improvements were enough and if the city would continue its contract with the company.

"They know if they don’t do a satisfactory job," Cullimore said, "we’ll have to consider other options."

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