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City of Williams deals with aftermath of historic winter

Several winter storms have come and passed, but plenty of snow still remains in Williams. The city is now tasked with cleaning up the mess. (Wendy Howell/WGCN)

Several winter storms have come and passed, but plenty of snow still remains in Williams. The city is now tasked with cleaning up the mess. (Wendy Howell/WGCN)

WILLIAMS Ariz. — It’s been a historic winter for Williams, and with snow amounts totaling well over 100 inches, it hasn’t been easy on city officials.

The record setting season has created challenges for city staff, as well as the Williams Police Department (WPD).

According to Brian Klimowski, meteorologist-in-charge at the National Weather Service in Flagstaff, Williams has received between 120 and 130 inches of snow this winter season.

Last year at this time, Williams had received about 40 inches. The average amount of snow for Williams by March 2 is 49 inches.

The National Weather Service has ranked this season in the top 10 snowiest on record for Williams, and there’s likely still more to come.

“We’re in the latter part of our winter but rest assured, we will see some more storms,” Klimowski said. “It’s a historic time. This has been a historic winter. It’s one we’ll be talking about for a long time and telling our kids about in the future.”

Residents may reminisce in the future about the 2022-2023 winter, but for now, the city just hopes to get through it. Issues such as snowy roads, gigantic snow berms and missed trash days have created extra work for city officials.

“God sent us a whole bunch of moisture this year, and we’ve got to deal with it,” said Williams Mayor Don Dent.

The city of Williams has a snow removal plan that is structured to reopen most city streets within seven hours following a major storm. The clearing of streets is based on a schedule of priorities.

The top priority is to open emergency routes for the health clinic, ambulance, fire stations and police department. This includes the main thoroughfares through town.

After that, the city focuses on the downtown streets, sides streets, residential streets and school bus routes.

Outlying areas follow, which include places such as Echo Canyon, Country Club Drive, Airport Road and South Road.

“Our crews, God bless them, they do just as much as they can, as hard as they can. There’s only so many hours in a day, and there’s only so many of them,” Dent said.

In order to clear the streets in accordance with the above priorities, the city's public works department follows a specific plan.

As soon as snow begins to fall, staff begint to monitor the accumulation and employees are put on alert.

When a 3-inch accumulation is predicted the snow removal plan is put into operation.

All snow removal vehicles will go into operation from the City Shop. Each piece of equipment will proceed on an assigned route.

As soon as all streets are open, snow removal equipment will return to shop for servicing as needed, but will stay in service as long as snow continues to fall.

When the snow stops and roads are open, cinder trucks will begin their assigned routes.

With limited staffing and resources, the city has struggled to plow the streets as quickly as some residents might hope. By law, snow plow drivers are restricted in their work hours and the city is limited with the number of trained snow plow drivers.

“We do the best we can to get the street open as fast as we can,” Dent said. “So these back to back big storms, which we’ve not had a lot of in the last 10 years, are really tough to deal with.”

Despite criticism from some residents, the city simply doesn’t have the time or means to create custom plow plans for every block.

“The guys have a limited amount of time to get it done and so you just have to go and do the best you can, and people have to learn and work with that…These guys are out here working in less visibility than what is imaginable sometimes. So their job is to go down the street and get it open as best they can,” Dent said. “We don’t have an ideal number (of staff) that I wish we could have, but we can’t afford to keep extra people on and then years when you don’t have snow, have them sitting around with nothing to do. It’s very expensive.”


Operations of snow removal take place around Williams. City elected officials encourage residents and business owners to do their part in clearing the sidewalks and keeping cars off the road for the slow plows. (Photo/WGCN)

In addition to city staff, residents of Williams are also responsible for some snow removal.

Per a city ordinance, public responsibilities include snow and ice removal from residental and business sidewalks, and restrictions for on-street parking.

Every home owner and business owner is required to remove snow and ice from a path of at least 36" in width.

Snow and ice should also be removed from sidewalks in all business districts in the city within 24 hours of storm.

If snow and ice on sidewalk has become so hard that it cannot be removed without damaging the sidewalk, sand or other abrasive must be put on the sidewalk to make travel possible.

People who fail to remove the snow and ice could be charged by the city.

In addition to clearing sidewalks, residents and visitors are asked to not park any vehicle on any public street or alley during snow removal. The Williams Police Department is authorized to remove the vehicle at the expense of the owners.

These ordinances are often ignored, to the frustration of some residents and visitors.

Snow-filled sidewalks and cars on the road during snow removal are expected in town following storms. With a recent history of more moderate winter seasons, the city has rarely had to enforce these public responsibilities. But with a record-breaking winter season at hand, it’s something the city is beginning to consider more seriously.

“Because we’ve not had a big winter like this in years, we haven’t gotten to that point (of regular enforcement), and we may have to go back to doing that,” Dent said. “I don’t know if even back in the day they enforced it enough to write people tickets, but they would tell them, ‘we can’t plow if you left your car out there.’”

According to WPD Lieutenant John Romero, police officers rarely tow cars for snow removal.

“I would certainly say our numbers are very low for vehicles we actually remove for snow removal," he said. "For the most part, what we try to do is contact people and have them move their vehicles so the plow can get through. But we certainly do have city policies that we can carry forth if there’s a vehicle blocking for snow removal.”

Icy sidewalks and icy store fronts create hazards, and when people and businesses fail to pave their sidewalks it forces people to walk out on the busy street where the road is paved, or worse, slip and get hurt, Dent said.

“The businesses downtown are supposed to clean their sidewalks, and we have some that get out there and do it early and get it done which is important for them to be able to get a customer," Dent said. "But, we also have others up and down the street that maybe are not open or don’t do that... So we may have to get back to doing enforcement. I hate to resort to that, but when people are not considerate about cleaning their sidewalks or where they park their vehicles that’s what it comes down to.”

If enforced, rental properties would be required to follow the ordinances as well.

“If we see that we need to enforce it, we’re going to enforce it with every property. You can’t make exceptions for something that’s not occupied. It’s the property owner’s job to make sure that those things are done,” Dent said.

Trash removal is another concern at the top of the list for many Williams residents. When the streets aren’t plowed, trash removal is often missed.

Dent said if a garbage truck was unable to pick up trash because of unplowed roads, residents may take their trash to the transfer center and dump it for free.

“Hopefully people can make the best of it," he said. "If they miss you, then put it out the next week. If you have to have it hauled, get it hauled. If you can get it out to the street and it’s where the truck can get to it, if you call, they’ll come back around and pick it up if they’ve got time to do that.

For Flagstaff residents, the city temporarily suspended residential trash and recycling collection service because of poor road conditions and limited accessibility.

Also affected by the snow are WPD operations.

In addition to snow removal problems, Williams Polic Department also reported an increase in calls.

According to Romero, the number of snow-related calls the department received has gone up significantly, and heavy snow resulted in slower response times. The department reminds residents and visitors that the best thing they can do is be prepared.

“The National Weather Service and our news channels tell us when storms are coming - take them serious, be prepared, stay sheltered if need be," he said. "If you do have to drive anywhere, drive slow with due regard and with the safety of others in mind, including yourself.

Over the winter season, Williams police have made regular trips to the senior apartments to ensure elderly residents have supplies and heat.

“It’s been obvious that we’ve had more snow this year than in the recent years past,” Romero said. “Rain, snow or shine, the police department is here on a 24/7 basis serving the city of Williams and the community with the best intentions in mind.”

With spring inching closer, Williams looks forward to sunnier days and warmer temps. But for now, the city continues to fight through the aftermath of a historically snowy winter.

“I hope people would just understand that we are doing the best we can," Dent said."We have a limited amount of equipment and a huge amount of snow this year. (Drivers) are doing the best they can, as fast as they can. And calling and screaming at someone is not going to make it any faster.”

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