Dumping dirty snow can be an environmental problem

  • Aubrey Cunningham of Raymond’s Landscaping lines Eagle Square with salt in front of a giant snow pile Friday in downtown Concord. Elizabeth Frantz / Monitor staff

  • Piles of snow are seen lining Main Street in downtown Concord on Friday. Elizabeth Frantz / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Saturday, January 06, 2018

Snow in the trees is beautiful, snow as it settles on the ground is peaceful, but snow when it gets in the way of city life can be a pain.

Hence that necessary task for communities now that the latest Nor’easter is past: Shifting the burden from streets to the snow yard.

“The trick is not to handle it too many times. Once we pick up the snow, we put it in a truck and take it away,” said Chip Chesley, director of General Services for Concord.

On Sunday night, plows, front-end loaders and trucks will be getting snow out of Concord’s downtown and taking it to a fenced-in area alongside the transfer station that is the designated snow yard, the industry term for a location where excess snow gets piled up. If all goes as planned, they’ll start the same process in some of the city’s older, narrow streets, where snow build-up is more of a problem – such as the neighborhood around the UNH School of Law – on Tuesday, Chesley said.

Franklin will also tackle downtown snow removal on Sunday night, said Brian Barry, deputy director of the city highway department. Like Concord, it tries to avoid this process over the weekend because it can interfere with business.

“We’ll start around 10 p.m., go right through the night into early a.m., until the traffic picks up,” Barry said.

Later in the week, he said, “We’ll branch out on side streets. We typically do it during the day when there’s not that much traffic.”

As in Concord, Franklin officials have learned from experience where accumulated snow can become a particular problem.

“Typically up near the hospital – Beaton Street, Edwards Street, they tend to get closed in pretty good. Snow gets pushed out from the hospital parking lot to the sidewalk, our sidewalk plow pushes it into the street,” Barry said. “We try to get there quickly.”

Snow yards are a time-honored tradition for municipalities, but they can also be an environmental problem. Plowed snow contains sand, road salt, oil from cars, debris, trash and other material that accumulates in the pile all winter, creating a real mess when warm weather comes.

This is why state law (RSA 485-A:13) forbids dumping snow into streams, rivers or lakes. Another law (RSA 485-C:12) forbids dumping in “classified wellhead protection areas” because the accumulated salt and automotive waste can work its into groundwater.

The Department of Environmental Services has put together guidelines about locating snow yards, with details such as where to locate a silt fence to keep clouds of fine material from getting into streams, and why sites should be open (“trees make collection of debris more difficult after the winter season”.)

Concord also uses a small area by Liberty Street for some snow storage. The city used to place snow at Manchester Street near Terrill Park, which is along the Merrimack River, but that area is being turned into an athletic facility and new dog park.

(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313 or dbrooks@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)