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City plows incorporate COVID precautions into operations

Published: Feb. 3, 2021 at 6:28 PM EST
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - One of the reasons Burlington roads are clear after Tuesday’s snowstorm is that plow truck drivers were healthy and working. Though public works officials were concerned pandemic precautions would slow snow removal, they say operations are going well so far.

“They did an excellent job and I think they always do,” said Patricia Garcia, a driver from Westford.

“I was surprised by how well they were groomed from Burlington into where I am right now, in Essex Center. I wasn’t as afraid to be on the road today,” said Judith Line of Burlington.

Chittenden County residents reported no issues navigating city and town roads post-snow storm.

Reporter Christina Guesfferd: What did you expect them to look like today?

Judith Line: I expected that with COVID that they probably wouldn’t have as much help as they have and that it would take longer to clear the roads and get them safer for people to drive.

Burlington Public Works Director Chapin Spencer says the pandemic has not slowed crews down. “I think we are doing as well, if not better, than last year,” he said.

He credits their success to practicing proper COVID safety protocols ahead of a huge storm. Thanks to that preparation, all staff are healthy allowing for all hands on deck. Crews are split up into two rotating teams, so operators never physically cross paths or use the same machines during a shift. About 30 people are plowing the city’s 95 miles of streets from different departments, including public works, maintenance, and parks and recreation.

“I want my team to know that they are the ones that really enable our community to stay moving during the difficult times, and but for them, we would have been stuck after yesterday’s storm,” Spencer said.

Essex Public Works Director Dennis Lutz echoed that pride in his employees after a successful storm cleanup but says the coronavirus almost put his crews at a dead end. “We lucked out. That’s the only way you can put it. Timing-wise -- storm hit when we had people back,” he said.

A couple of weeks ago he says 40 percent of his plow operators couldn’t work because they’d either been exposed to or contracted COVID-19. After that scare, Lutz is insisting his employees are prioritized for vaccinations if the state receives more weekly doses. “Doctors have to get to the hospital, police have to run, emergency vehicles have to run, and they’re all dependent on the plow trucks being out. So, to me, there needs to be some consideration given that we at least look at how that fits into the overall schedule. Don’t put those people at the end of the line,” he said.

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