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Storm cleanup in west central Minn. will take all week

WILLMAR -- The storm may be over but the cleanup from Sunday's blizzard will continue all week as road crews attempt to cut back huge snowdrifts along state and county roads.

Erica Dischino / TribuneA bulldozer works on pushing back a snowdrift Monday from U.S. Highway 71 near Svea. The Minnesota Department of Transportation this week will use bulldozers and snowblowers to taper the shoulders of area roads and to push snow into fields to act as a "snow fence" to help alleviate drifting.
Erica Dischino / Tribune A bulldozer works on pushing back a snowdrift Monday from U.S. Highway 71 near Svea. The Minnesota Department of Transportation this week will use bulldozers and snowblowers to taper the shoulders of area roads and to push snow into fields to act as a "snow fence" to help alleviate drifting.

WILLMAR - The storm may be over but the cleanup from Sunday's blizzard will continue all week as road crews attempt to cut back huge snowdrifts along state and county roads.

Slogging through the snow Sunday was a "brawl" for plow drivers who put in long hours trying to keep roads open during the "knockdown, drag-out" storm, said Tim McCoy, maintenance supervisor for the Minnesota Department of Transportation District 8 office in Willmar.

Now comes the job of removing eight-foot-tall snowbanks alongside the roads, using heavy equipment to push snow into fields.

McCoy said bulldozers and snowblowers will be used to "kick those shoulders back" by shaving away sharp snow ridges on the edge of roads and instead creating tapered edges. The tapering allows the wind to blow the snow away into the ditch, rather than trapping it on the roads.

He said MnDOT will be running bulldozers 16 hours a day, from 3 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., focusing on roads south and west of Willmar, like highways 71, 23, 40 and 277, where snow and wind caused the most severe blockage.

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Bulldozers will also be used to push snow into fields to build a "snow fence" to help slow down drifting during any future weather incidents.

For the first time, McCoy said they're using portable stoplights to keep traffic on one lane of the highway while heavy equipment is used to move snow on the other lane.

"It really works good," he said. "It's safer for us and safer for them (motorists)."

He said MnDOT is also hiring private contractors to help with this heavy work, including local road construction crews that typically let their bulldozers sit idle during the winter.

McCoy said this is the first time in the 21 years he's worked for MnDOT that there's been storm that's reminiscent of the "old-fashioned, normal Minnesota winter that I grew up with" and it was a learning experience for some of the new plow drivers.

McCoy said snow removal would have been easier if motorists would have stayed home Sunday.

Kandiyohi County Sheriff Eric Holien agrees.

He said his department responded to 39 calls for help on Sunday. "People were stuck either on the roadway or in the ditch," Holien said.

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Dispatchers took a far greater number of calls for assistance that were forwarded onto other agencies, including the Minnesota State Patrol, and they fielded calls from motorists who first said they were stuck and needed help, then called back to say they got unstuck and didn't need help.

"It was very busy for those individuals and most of our dispatchers said they haven't seen it that busy since 1997," Holien said.

Kandiyohi County Road 4 and County Road 1 were the worst for southbound traffic, he said.

"Those vehicles were not getting far," he said.

"We had a deputy that got stuck out there. The Minnesota Department of Transportation had to come out with a plow to get that vehicle out, and we had an ambulance that was coming up to Willmar that needed a plow to assist that ambulance to get up to Willmar."

In one case a driver ignored a deputy's warning not to drive on a specific road in the southern part of the county and promptly got stuck, necessitating a rescue.

Holien said as far as he knows, no one spent the night in a vehicle unless they chose to, and there were no injuries reported.

"Everybody that called the Kandiyohi County Sheriff's Office was ... helped in one way, shape or form," he said.

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Holien said in the future he hopes people take travel warnings seriously.

"When we say no travel advised, we're not just putting it out there for our health," he said.

"We're trying to make sure everyone stays home and stays safe, because then we have to risk our lives, and public works has to get out there and save those individuals," he said.

Related Topics: KANDIYOHI COUNTY
Carolyn Lange is a features writer at the West Central Tribune. She can be reached at clange@wctrib.com or 320-894-9750
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