• Cold weather spells good news for retail, but stresses for pipes, fishing vessels
By Naomi Klouda
The good, the bad and the ugly reality of harsh winters like this one mingle in a picture full of contradictions: There’s a mini boom in snow removal and retail sales for local retailers. Snow plowers and haulers are in high demand. Cod fishermen unable to get to their fishing grounds are out of luck. And a hemmed in harbor clogged with ice spells hard times for smaller vessels.
Skip Perk, owner of Skip’s Trucking, said this year’s total hauls of snow are three times what he had last January. He’s hauled snow on more consecutive days in 2012 than in any previous year since 1987. The private contractor is called out to work with City of Homer Public Works crews on snowplowing around the clock.
“I don’t remember ever seeing this much dry snow,” Perk said. “I’ve seen a fair amount of snowfall, but never this much dry snow, where it’s been cold this long.”
He has carried up to 40 loads in his dump truck in 12 days time.
Over at Ulmer’s Hardware, it’s been a run on shovels and heaters, said assistant manager Mike Quinn.
“It’s been a busy winter. Business couldn’t be better,” Quinn said. The store tries to keep the shelves filled with shovels, ice melt, RV antifreeze, a variety of heaters and emergency equipment. “We usually order a lot to stock up for winter – we’re trying to meet the community’s needs. Heaters were a big one this year.”
Plastic shovels just don’t cut it when snow freezes and hardens. People are reaching for the flat garden shovels. “They take smaller bites and are not lifting quite as much snow. We’ve also seen people stocking up on emergency gear, which is a good idea if you’re snowed in for days and can’t get out. It makes sense to keep extra water and food on hand.”
Ice clogs at Homer’s normally ice-free harbor has caused a bit of havoc. A finger float in the Homer Harbor was pointing at the sky this weekend, a causality of frozen ice and heaving tides.
“It’s a big ice year, especially out in the bay,” said Harbormaster Bryan Hawkins. “It’s definitely a lot colder than we’ve had in the past. When it’s extreme cold like that, floats will freeze to the piling so when the tide goes down, the piling doesn’t go with it. Or we have the opposite problem, they’ll stay submerged.”
Hinge supports on the floats then get damaged and will need replacement.
During last week’s two-day white out storm and subzero wind chills, two boats nearly sank.
“We had two responses during the storm that was all-hands-on to save the boats. The owners are too hampered by the blizzards to even get here and respond themselves,” Hawkins said. Boat owners living in Soldotna or Anchorage with the idea to come check on their boats wouldn’t have been able to travel the highway. So the object was to handle it for them, he added.
The M/V Kennicott had difficulty tying to the Pioneer Dock on Sunday. Ice jams at low tide meant the ferry was abutting ice as it tried to tie up. That work took two hours before passengers could be offloaded.
Cod fishermen are finding an above normal harvest of fish, but are kept in the port on stormy days. Fish Factory owner Mike McCune, who purchases from the commercial fishermen, said some days the boats can make it out in the bay, and some days they can’t.
“The resource seems quite strong, but they are limited in days to get out there. We’ve had an average January that’s colder than normal. It’s always a struggle to get multiple days of fishing in,” McCune said. But when the fishing vessels come in to offload, the dock workers are putting in some impressive hours in harsh wind chill as they process fish on the dock. “Usually on the very worst days they deliver the fish and that’s the worst for (fish processors). They are amazing to me from time to time,” McCune said.
At Homer Public Works, crews begin work plowing roads at 4 a.m. each snowy day. On Wednesday and Thursday, the crews were stuck with back-to-back 12 hour days to combat more than a foot of snowfall.
“Overtime at this time of year is normal,” Director of Public Works Carey Meyers said Monday. “We’ve probably had a little more all at once but that is part of the job of doing snow removal.”
Public Works’ goal is to have all city streets and sidewalks on Pioneer Avenue cleared within 24 hours of a snowfall. To get there, it takes the work of three grader operators, a couple in sanders and dump trucks hired to haul snow.
At this point, Meyers is concerned about running out of places to dump snow. He wanted to get the message out to the public to not stockpile snow from their own yards into the streets’ right-of-ways and to keep cars off the roadway so emergency vehicles can get in.
Plumbers in town also are kept busy as a byproduct of the cold snap. Eayers Plumbing and Heating has been inundated with calls about frozen and broken pipes.
“We’ve been getting a lot of calls. A lot of it is due to not enough insulation and fuel is so high, people have been turning the heat down, too,” Owner Steve Eayers said. “Things without having had the proper maintenance are working harder and they break. A heating system is one of those things that people don’t think about unless something goes wrong.”
Carpet cleaners also are being kept busy. When pipes burst, carpet cleaning companies are called in to help clean up and dry the flooring.
The work is welcome, with even a need to hire more people, but it’s not the kind of work Eayers said he enjoys.
“It’s better for them if they can plan the work so they have the finances for it, not when there’s a disaster,” he said.
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