Snowblower Decision Could Be Reached This Week

by ARLnow.com December 14, 2010 at 9:10 am 2,231 34 Comments

The county’s snowblower loan program is at a crossroads. Should it expand to meet greatly increased demand, or simply stick with its existing fleet of ten snowblowers?

Yesterday a plurality of readers said the program should simply be dismantled. But that seems unlikely, given the county board’s expressed support for the program on Saturday.

Susan Kalish, spokesperson for the Department of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources, says the county has gotten a “deluge” of snowblower requests this year and will likely be deciding this week whether to purchase additional machines.

With more requests than snowblowers, Kalish explained how the county decides whose requests will be granted.

“Priority for the snow blowers is based on area to be blown (big area, high-traffic area, or both) and the group (got enough volunteers to make sure it’s done, have a track record of getting the job done),” she said.

For more information about the snowblower program, residents can contact Tom Mitchler at tmitchler[at]arlingtonva.us or call 703-228-6522.

  • Let’s Be Free

    This is a giveaway to the political insiders, endorsers and contributors that dominate Civic Association leadership. I mean heck, why not give away lawn mowers next? You know, the big riding kind so the poor sheeple not be required to push mowers around their expansive eighth of an acre lots.

  • NorthAdams

    So can we talk about the environmental impact of these machines? Aren’t two and three-cycle machines the WORST POLLUTERS IN THE WHOLE WORLD?
    Are these machines electric (doubt it)?
    Is the fuel mixture being properly handled (who knows what that even is?)?

    • PigPen

      The amount of pollution put out by people using snow blowers in Arlington County on the handful of days we actually get snow is miniscule compared to the amount of pollution created to manufacture oceans of plastic to create cheap Christmas decorations and strings of lights that are used a few times then thrown out (not to mention the amount of energy wasted to run those lights, or the pollution generated manufacturing the batteries that some of that unnecessary crap – like musical Christmas cards – runs on). Where is your outrage about that?

      • Novanglus

        So you’re saying that before anyone complain about this environmental issue, they have to be outraged over every bigger environmental problem? Who has time to list all of those?

        Christmas lights and decorations are people’s private decisions. We can have an opinion on them, sure.

        But these snowblowers are bought and maintained with our tax money, and discussing them is especially relevant since the County Board has made such a big deal over carbon emissions.

        • Westover

          The snow blowers need torque, not just speed, they are Four Stroke engines and pretty clean burning.

      • Rover

        We should also be worried at the insane amount of salt we throw on our sidewalks and streets not just at for a snow event, but also at the THREAT of some flurries! The salinity of Four Mile Run is probably off the charts!

        • Westover

          Good for the crabs and oysters down river.

          • Rover

            The dead minnows and crayfish flushing downstream makes for a wonderful addition to the Potomac and Chesapeake. Ah, who are we kidding. Four Mile Run has been essentially an industrial sewage stream for years.


    • G::TheNativeArlingtonian

      Proper fuel mixture can have two meanings: 1) that the mix of gas to oil (in the gas) is of the proper ratio. If its not, the engine could burn up, or the engine become gummed up with carbon to where it would need repair. 2) it could also potentially mean the proper air to fuel ratio, also required if you hope to the have machine run properly. Now, will these machines be maintained properly and set up properly for the users? No idea. Will they be supplied with gas cans with the proper gas:fuel mix? No idea. Does this program seem like a nice idea but completely impractical? Yes.

      • Westover

        They are four stroke engines, the mix is moot.

        • mehoo

          You know this for a fact?

          • Westover

            They are two stage snow blowers that the county passed out last year, there are no two stoke two stage snow blowers on the market. Most two stroke single stage snow blowers would have been worthless last year.

          • mehoo


  • PikeHoo

    This is really just a stupid program. Sell the snow blowers and donate the money to a local shelter in the name of Xmas, whoops, I mean the holidays. VA is shoveling territory.

  • YTK

    Let’s make sure the people who borrow them KNOW how to safely use them!

  • Westover

    “Yesterday a plurality of readers said the program should simply be dismantled.” True, but as of this morning, a majority wants the program to be kept as is at a minimum.

    If the county wants to pass mandates requireing sidewalks to be cleared, they should be providing a program like this one. Any fines collected from uncleared sidewalks can go towards funding the purchase and maintance of the snowblowers.

  • RHS

    The shallowness of most of the comments posted on this topic is appaling.
    Fact: When Arlington receives a large snowfall, the County does not have the personnel to clear neighborhood sidewalks in addition to clearing the County’s streets. Fact: While most residents willingly clear their walks after a snowfall (regardless of whether the County has an ordinance to that effect), some residents do not, some are out of town, some are too clueless to have ever bought a snow shovel, and some are elderly or have a medical condition that makes snow shoveling risky for them. Fact: For clearing the public sidewalks to be a real benefit to the community, they must be cleared the entire way to key destination points, whether that be a commercial area or a Metro station or similar goal point. Given the earlier facts, no routes will be successfully cleaned unless some group undertakes to ensure that 100% of the route is cleaned, not just 60-90%. And, speaking from experience, those sidewalk segments not cleaned fairly promptly are not just a snow hazard to pedestrians. Over several days they become a slick ice hazard as the snow is compacted by many feet into ice that can last for several weeks if the weather remains cold. People falling and breaking hips or other bones is a reality in such situations.

    The local groups most logically available to handle County-provided equipment to clear neighborhood sidewalks are the local civic associations. Whether a particular association has the interest and support to handle such a task is an open question. Many may not. Others, particularly if their geographic area contains one or more logical and important “goal points” for local citizens afoot, may see it as their civic duty to open pedestrian routes to these points if at all possible.

    The routes to be cleared are not the frontage of a standard residential lot (normally 50 – 60 feet), they are often a mile or more in length. In last winter’s snow, even using a snow blower it often took volunteers 8 hours or so to clean a sidewalk for that distance. And if a particular goal (like a Metro station) is to be accessed by walkers from several directions, the amount of sidewalk length needing to be cleared multiplies accordingly.

    Using a snowblower is not easy work, though it beats a snow shovel both in terms of the amount of snow moved per hour and the reduced strain on the body. Even snow blower operators come back after several hours of labor pretty exhausted.

    The cost to the County for operating such a program is CHEAP. There are virtually no personnel costs, and the capital cost for the snowblower machines is pretty minimal considering the miles of County sidewalk that would be cleared. The machines purchased will last for years. The local citizens who use them are trained by County staff and registered as formal volunteers under the Commonwealth’s volunteer statute. That gives them a level of liability protection as they carry out this work on public property. That liability question is a key reason why a particular civic association would be hesitant to take on full responsibility for cleaning County sidewalks.

    In sum, this modest program, which has been operative in only a few civic associations over the past eight years or so, has been overall successful in those areas in reopening key parts of the neighborhood’s sidewalk network after a snowfall with very little out-of-pocket cost to the County. Now, given the large snowfalls last winter and the County’s recent enactment of a snow removal ordinance, there is pressure for the program to significantly grow. Empowering volunteers is one of many areas in which Arlington excels, thus enhancing the quality of life for all. I wish the County all success in expanding this community effort to overcome the crippling effects of a major snowfall.

    • Westover

      Very well written. Amazing when logic is applied to issues in the county isn’t it! Thanks!

    • jan

      Let’s not forget the need to clear routes to schools and bus stops.

    • Let’s Be Free

      Fact: I come from a part of the country where it really snows, they somehow figure out to clear all the streets and walks in public areas. If instead of getting the job done the politicians in that neck of the woods were to whine the way that Mary Hynes does, those politicians would be out on their butts. Arlington County does not as a general rule use PRCR employees to clear streets (who are therefore available to clear walks) and has access, like anyone else, to contractors who can assist when there is an occasional major storm. Virtually every major commercial complex with surface parking uses contractors; the State uses contractors; even the Feds use contractors. Mary Hynes claim that the County can’t clear sidewalks because employees are driving snowplows is typical of the misleading crap that elected officials and lead bureaucrats in Arlington County get away with every day.

      Fact: It would take a hundred snow blowers to keep miles and miles of sidewalks clean — not a ten or twenty blowers, so clearly this program is selective and has been and will be implemented to favor a few at the expense of the many. If the County believes that snow blowers are what are needed to clear miles and miles of County sidewalks (equipping lawn service/maintenance equipment, bobcats or some such similar things in the County’s hefty equipment inventory with small plows is the low cost way to go for primary clearing) that would help to explain why Arlington County does such a poor job of clearing walks.

      Fact: Snow blowers are inherently dangerous, so it is appalling that the County and sponsoring associations are ducking responsibility for liability when placing dangerous equipment in the hands of amateurs. Thanks for letting us know. And for would be volunteers there is nothing the county can do to protect the operator from liability for injury caused to others, such as if a machine picks up a pebble and shoots out someone’s eye when clearing snow in front of their own or someone else’s house or a business.

      Fact: As one of the shallow folks, I’ll note that however deep or shallow the snow I’ve shoveled sidewalks of neighbors in need dozens of times over the decades and helped others to dig out their cars, never once did I require a subsidy from the government to do the right thing or expect or receive anything in return.

      Fact: Nowhere in Arlington last year did I see the one hundred percent clearing of walks, that supposedly justifies the program. Name me one neighborhood that had a County supplied snow blower and used it to clear one hundred percent of the walks. It did not happen.

      I am willing to bet the County will do better this year because the new fellow hired at the top of the bureaucracy comes from the north; he won’t put up with the bs and excuses.

      • Westover

        Snow blowers are no more inherently dangerous than a lawn mower, sewing machine, or cuisinart. If it takes 100 machines spread through the neignborhoods I say we appropriate $40K from the county budget to pay for them, we blow a lot more on other things for a lot less of a payout. Snow removal is an emergency service, no matter how conservative one claims to be, it can and should be seen as an essential service and organic role for the local government. If this can be done best by providing the equipment and empowering citizens to get the job done, than this Republican is ALL for it.

  • Rover

    One bad winter in a decade and all hell breaks loose! I wonder if Sunbelt rentals has this problem too?

  • mehoo

    Seems to me that if the snow is bad enough to need a snowblower, it will probably be bad enough that you won’t be able to transport a shared snowblower to where it’s needed, at least until streets get plowed. Or do you just blow down the sidewalk and hand it off from neighbor to neighbor?

    • RHS

      Your last guess is correct. The snow blower is handed off from one registered volunteer to another as a walking route is being cleared. In some cases the sidewalk may be cleared for hours before the first government snow plow comes along to plow the street.

  • G

    I remember as I ran to work last winter, I had to run in the road because the sidewalk was completely covered in snow. The sidewalk at that point was adjacent to a county park, and behind me was a county truck honking because they wanted to get by me. The county plans to fine homeowners and business owners who don’t shovel their sidewalk, but the county can’t even shovel their own. Then county employees get pissed when I’m in the road…

    • SoArlRes

      As someone who is active in all weather conditions, I understand where you’re coming from…

  • mehoo

    This is the dilemma we and every locality in this climate area has. We get enough snow to cause problems every once in a while, but not enough to justify a major investment in snow removal equipment, etc. So we do the most cost-effective thing – on the rare occasion that it snows alot, we just shut down and use what we can to get by.

  • 7

    I wonder where the day-laborers who hang out at various 7-Elevens in the region are when it snows? You think they’d be happy to stand there with a shovel for hire. I don’t see them.

    • Westover

      They were out at commercial establishments clearing snow.

      • mehoo


  • TGEoA
    • Rover

      Quite the artist.

  • NorthAdams

    So let us say that this boon doggle payola to political hacks program is canceled (as it should be).
    Do the neighborhoods with the eight machines all of a sudden not get cleared? because my neighborhood has never had a county-funded mechanical device and we have always managed to clean the snow from: our sidewalks; the old lady next door; the wife of the army guy in Irag; the bus stops on all three major routs; the sidewalk in front of county owner property; the sidewalk over i-66; and anything else that was in the way.
    it is called community. it is called caring.
    and if a community will only coalesce because the county funds a machine, wow, what fools mine neighborhood has been for the last few storms!!

    • Westover

      What sidewalk across I-66 near Adams Street are you talking about? The Custis Trail Pedestrian Bridge sure was not cleared by neighbors in a timely fashion last winter, eventually the Park Authority folks got to it. The 22nd Street Bridge? That was a mess for weeks. In my neighborhood neighbors cleared each others sidewalks, but the sidewalk for kids walking to school over I-66 did not get cleared for a while until contractors in backhoes cleared one side, while making the other side a bigger mess that did not clear until the sun did its job weeks later.

      This is not a payola program to political hacks, it is a program that worked where it was implemented. I say expand the program, it pays off big time for a moderate investment.


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