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A Snowless Winter Could Save a Bundle for Upstate S.C. Agencies

ANDERSON, S.C. -- Almost a year ago, a heavy blanket of ice covered Anderson County overnight. It took more than a week, at up to $12,000 a day, to treat roads for hazardous black ice and to fuel four-wheel drive trucks and other emergency vehicles.

Meteorologists are predicting a mild winter and Upstate county leaders operating on slashed budgets hope that that could alleviate mounting needs.

If no major snow storms develop this season, Anderson County could save up to $84,000 on expenses including fuel, sand, bromide and salt, according to Taylor Jones, the county's emergency services director.

Oconee County will keep even more money in the bank. The January 2011 snow and ice drained the county of $100,000 in direct costs such as fuel, sandbags and vehicle repairs, said Scott Krein, emergency services director.

"The number goes up a lot more for repairing roads," he said.

Greenville, Oconee, Pickens and Spartanburg counties received road damage costing $45 million to $55 million, according to the state Department of Transportation.

Counties did not calculate labor in direct costs because most workers are salaried. Anderson and Oconee counties paid some employees overtime and rotated them to prevent excess overtime and fatigue. Volunteer firefighters receive no reimbursement for their time.

Pickens County spent less, about $24,000, said county finance director Ralph Guarino. Still, he learned that asking for help sooner cuts costs. Should snow and ice come this year, Guarino will ask the National Guard sooner to aid people in rural parts of the county. In addition, he will request state resources, such as sand trucks and tractors, earlier.

"We won't suffer through that again," he said.

Jones met with the Anderson County Sheriff's Office, fire departments, mayors, emergency dispatch, EMS and hospital representatives in November to apply this winter what the county learned last year.

"Our number one vulnerability in this county is ice storms," he said.

Safe emergency transportation was a top priority.

The county acquired three humvees last year for free to transport multi-purpose emergency squads during dangerous weather. Each vehicle would have a paramedic, a law enforcement officer, a firefighter and an emergency medical technician to answer wrecks and home calls. Jones said the goal is to have a total of five of the vehicles, one for each county region. Their purpose is to prevent multiple fire trucks and ambulances from skidding across icy roads. This year the state and county will work to assure that drivers can access secondary roads such as Greenville Street, S.C. 28 bypass, S.C. 24 and S.C. 252 to Belton, Jones said.

A $165,000 cut to Anderson County's emergency services budget last year will result in three fewer people working storms than in 2011, Jones said.

Anderson County roads will ride smoother by spring if none of them freeze, said Tony Owens, Anderson County's Roads and Bridges Department. Last January the roads and bridges department worked 21 days removing storm-felled trees, Owens said, using hours of manpower, money and fuel that would otherwise be spent repairing roads.

"We can't get that money and time back. We're gradually getting in a hole when we have these events," Owens said.During storms, the department works out of its annual operating budget and receives no additional money unless the federal government steps in, Owens said. Such an allowance is rare.

Schools receive few breaks on wasted resources because of storms.

Even if they turn off power, it will be used on make-up days. The same goes for fuel for bus routes and food service, said Julie Thompson, spokeswoman for the School District of Pickens County. In 10 years, she has seen cafeteria food come close to spoiling just once during a snow storm.

"We monitor the situation at the schools, and if we lose power then we could bring in generators if needed," she said.

Knowing when to use extra caution is the challenge, Guarino said.

"Snow and sleet is nothing," he said. "Ice is a totally different animal."

During his 26 years of working on road construction and maintenance, Owens has learned to look for ice in mid-January and around Valentine's Day.

"We're getting close," he said.


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