With storm season approaching, staff in the Thurston County Public Works Department are working to ensure residents have access to vital infrastructure during weather-related events.
Floodwaters over a road and driveway in 2017 on Michigan Hill in Southwest Thurston County
“We’re not just preparing for snow and ice. Some of our worst events are caused by heavy rains, wind and flooding,” said Public Works Director Jennifer Walker.
Rain, sleet, snow or ice – the department coordinates with Emergency Management and Fleet Services to keep roads, solid waste facilities, and county utilities operational during and after a storm. During the month of October, Public Works staff are focusing on sharpening winter storm protocols by providing trainings designed to refresh skills for seasoned workers and teach new employees what to expect.
“Our supervisors are training staff on seasonal equipment, teaching safe tree removal, taking crews to frequent flood sites, and driving snow routes with them,” said Road Operations Manager Lucy Mills.
Snow plow operators are trained on new snow routes designed to improve efficiency and provide better coverage.
“We are redistributing the workload so our primary routes can be managed in a single shift,” said Road Operations Supervisor Lane McAllister.
In addition to trainings, road crews will visit storage sites throughout the county that house equipment to make sure they are stocked with materials needed in the event of a rain or snow storm. The crews are also creating brine, the anti-icing solution used on roads in the event of snow and ice.
“We are one of the few facilities in the area that have the capability to create our own brine,” said Mills. “In addition to making and storing it for future use, we work with other municipalities to ensure they have access to it as well.”
Thurston County sells brine at cost to other public works departments including those located in Olympia, Aberdeen and Grays Harbor, who store it for use at their facilities.
Roads crew staff at the Thurston County Public Works Tilley Road Campus, move salt to the brining tank during preparations for winter weather
“It’s all about making sure everyone has safe access to roads,” said Mills.
At the Thurston County Waste and Recovery Center (WARC), Facility Operations Manager Gerald Tousley is making sure his staff are prepared in the event of a storm.
“The WARC is an essential facility. We do everything possible to stay open so that commercial carriers who provide garbage service have a place to deliver,” said Tousley.
The Water Resources division of Public Works operates three water and four wastewater systems, providing drinking water to more than 800 rate payers in Tamoshan, Boston Harbor, and Grand Mound. As part of winter preparedness, utilities crews outfit vehicles with traction tires, test emergency equipment, and operate generators weekly to prepare for power outages.
“Though some of our facilities are in remote areas with limited access, we have to make sure our customers have safe reliable drinking water and that sewer facilities are meeting permit requirements, no matter what the weather is doing,” said Water Utilities Supervisor Kevin Patching.
Parks and Trails division staff are also in the process of preparing for severe weather, winterizing public facilities including restrooms, park rentals, and other structures owned by the county.
“The Parks & Trails crews are also responsible for ensuring culverts, drains, and other stormwater structures and ditches remain clear throughout the fall and winter,” said Parks and Trails Manager Kerry Hibdon.