Of the Baker City Herald

Baker County's snowplows won't gather any dust or rust this winter.

The snowiest storm in more than a decade slammed a powdery fist into the county Saturday night, and by Monday morning the blizzard had yet to loosen its icy grip.

City, county and state officials summoned every available plow to scrape from streets, roads and highways a layer of snow that exceeded one foot in many places.

andquot;We've got every piece of equipment we have out working,andquot; Tom Fisk, Baker City's street supervisor, said this morning.

The story is identical at the Baker County Road Department.

andquot;Everybody is out,andquot; said Kathy Hogge, who works for the department. andquot;They've got the nose to the grindstone, or the snowplow, or whatever. They're busy trying to get things taken care of as soon as possible.andquot;

Fisk said he called in six employees two who were on vacation to start plowing streets Sunday.

Two other workers transferred temporarily from other departments to snow patrol, he said.

The day crew worked until about 8 o'clock Sunday night, and a fresh crew came on at midnight, Fisk said.

He expects to follow a similar schedule today.

Oregon Department of Transportation crews also worked around the clock to combat snow that occasionally closed the eastbound and westbound lanes of Interstate 84 Sunday, said ODOT spokesman Tom Strandberg.

andquot;There weren't any major closures, just sporadic ones,andquot; he said.

Both sides of the freeway were open by this morning.

The freeway eastbound was closed from noon on Sunday to 1 a.m. this morning, and westbound lanes were temporarily closed throughout the day from noon to early this morning, he said.

andquot;Basically vehicles were spinning out and blocking the road,andquot; Strandberg said.

Twenty-five new inches of snow fell on Ladd Canyon over the weekend, he said, and 19 inches accumulated on Meacham.

During one of those freeway closures, between Baker City and Durkee, bored motorists managed to lend some artistic levity to the situation by assembling a cast of sagebrush-armed snowmen in the highway median.

Cindy Ratterman of Baker City was among the travelers who appreciated the display.

Ratterman said she and her husband, Ned, and son, Brandon, were returning to Baker City from visiting relatives in Wyoming when the freeway was closed about 3:30 Sunday afternoon.

The freeway re-opened about 90 minutes later, and Cindy Ratterman said the snowmen brightened the final leg of their journey.

andquot;They were awfully cute,andquot; she said. andquot;They made everyone smile after being stranded for an hour and a half.andquot;

Ratterman said she didn't see any of the snow sculptors at work.

But she has suspects.

andquot;I'm guessing kids got really bored in the car, and their parents said 'go out and build a snowman,' andquot; she said.

Traffic was clogged on Bridge Street at Lew Bros. Les Schwab Tire Service this morning while travelers waited their turn for chains.

andquot;There's a line that winds through the building and cars are lined up on both sides all the way down to the corner on both sides,andquot; said Diana Brown.

Advisories recommended that motorists traveling through the Baker City area this morning carry chains or traction tires. Chains were required for all trucks traveling east and west at Ladd Canyon and Cabbage Hill.

City hardly plowed at all last winter

Regardless of what happens the rest of the season, this winter already has been busier than last for city crews, Fisk said.

Last winter the city's plows languished in their garages, getting out for just a few hours of exercise after a minor storm in early February.

The city spent $18,000 to plow snow and to spread sand and ice on streets less than half its annual budget of about $46,000.

Two winters ago, by contrast, the city spent $71,000.

As long as the snow continues, crews will concentrate on clearing the busiest streets, Fisk said.

After the flakes cease to fall so thickly, the city's plows will move into residential neighborhoods.

Fisk reminds residents that crews can't spare the time to clear everyone's driveway once the plow has passed.

However, Community Connection of Baker County and the Powder River Correctional Facility help low-income senior citizens and disabled residents keep their sidewalks and driveways clear of snow.

People who can't wield a shovel, and can't afford to pay someone to do the job, should call Community Connection at 523-6591. Community Connection maintains a list of people who need help.

Powder River officials then dispatch inmates to shovel snow and they bring their own shovels.

Forty inmates were shoveling this morning, andquot;trying to get people out of their houses,andquot; said Mary Calloway, work program coordinator at the minimum-security prison.

A city ordinance requires property owners to shovel sidewalks within 24 hours after a storm ends.

Fisk said that although he understands that in certain places Main Street downtown, for example there's no place to shovel show except into the street, he would appreciate if residents elsewhere avoid the practice.

This morning city crews had to plow snow that had been pushed from driveways and parking lots into the street, Fisk said.

andquot;That doesn't help,andquot; he said.

Fisk said city workers will continue the traditional practice of plowing snow into berms in the centers of several streets, including Main, Resort and Campbell.

But if those berms grow to SUV hood height, as they did two years ago, the city might load some of that snow into trucks and haul it away, he said.

Storm left hundreds without power

Heavy snow loading on power lines in the Sumpter-Granite and North Powder-Anthony Lakes areas left nearly 1,500 homes without power early this morning in separate outages.

Service to 553 customers at North Powder, Anthony Lakes and the surrounding rural area was disrupted from 1:25 a.m. to 2:50 a.m. today, said Steve Schauer, Oregon Trail Electric Cooperative members services manager.

The system was not damaged in the outages, he said. The service disruptions were the result of bouncing lines that made contact as snow loads fell from them, causing a breaker or fuse to open, he said.

The same situation occurred on the Sumpter-Granite line, which serves 924 customers. Service went down at 5:45 a.m. today, and was restored to most homes by 7:45 a.m., Schauer said. The balance was back on line by 8:15 a.m.

Lights flickered throughout the Baker service area Sunday night also because of the heavy snow falling off the lines. The force was not enough to open a breaker or fuse in those cases, Schauer said.