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Houlton Public Works crews overcome winter challenges

HOULTON, Maine — Keeping up with the record-setting snow amounts filling the streets and front yards of most homes in southern Aroostook County has proven to be a challenge at times for the Houlton Public Works Department this winter.

Like many public works departments throughout Aroostook County, Houlton’s overtime costs are running high, while supplies of salt and sand are starting to get low.

“We are running over by about 20 percent in fuel costs and are starting to run a bit low in sand,” Director Chris Stewart said Thursday. “Despite all the snow, though, it really has not been too bad. The guys on my crew have a really good attitude and have all been doing whatever it takes to get the job done.”

On Thursday, the Houlton crew was working to widen some of the busier side streets in town. Some of those roads have narrowed considerably as plows were unable to push the banks back far enough, which can create issues should an emergency response vehicle need to traverse those roads.

“It is a safety issue for sure,” Stewart said. “We try to choose the side streets that have a high volume of traffic or are arteries for the schools.”

The widening effort involves cutting into the snowbanks found in people’s front yards and then hauling that snow away to the ever-growing drop off spot located on Hillview Avenue. That pile of snow currently resembles a small mountain as the snow from the past four months continues to accumulate.

Aside from making the roads wider for better traffic flow, Stewart said the hope is that it will help alleviate runoff in some areas once the melting process begins.

“We are trying to get to those streets that we know have issues with water puddling up,” he said.

While there have been no major breakdowns of equipment this season, Stewart said some “downtime” for repairs would be most welcomed.

“It would be really nice if we could get a week or so to have our mechanics really spend some time on our vehicles for maintenance,” he said.

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