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A Bobcat tractor is wedged next to mailboxes on 79th Street in Cottage Grove after last week's snowfall, evidence of the challenges of snow removal after two storms dropped a significant amount of snow in the south Washington County. Bulletin photo by Scott Wente.

After the storms: Cities still digging out

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Cottage Grove, 55016
Cottage Grove Minnesota 7584 80th Street South 55016

Two significant snowfall in as many weeks left Cottage Grove officials urging residents to help the city by digging out fire hydrants from deep snow banks.

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Up to 18 inches of snow dumped in the Dec. 11 blizzard left most of the city's 1,300 fire hydrants buried in snow after plow trucks cleared the roadways. That presents a danger, Cottage Grove Public Safety officials say, by making it difficult for fire crews to get needed water in the event of a house fire.

Then, as homeowners and public works crews began making progress on the post-snowstorm cleanup, another four to five inches of snow fell on the area last week.

"The (hydrants) that were uncovered are now covered again," said street supervisor Rick Alt. "It's kind of a repetitive process."

Alt said residents who are unable to clear their snow from around the fire hydrant in front of their property should call Cottage Grove Public Works at (651) 458-2808.

Cottage Grove put out a call for help clearing the hydrants to residents on its Facebook page.

There are similar challenges throughout south Washington County.

In Woodbury, city officials started a "hydrant heroes" program to urge residents to chip in. In St. Paul Park, some postal customers last week received reminders that residents need to keep approaches to mailboxes clear. In some cases, mail was not delivered until mailboxes could be accessed.

In Cottage Grove, Alt said crews are still working to push back or remove snow that is limiting visibility at intersections, namely on major roadways like 80th Street or Jamaica Avenue.

"There's just so much snow," he said.

The cleanup efforts aren't free, either. Robin Roland, Cottage Grove's finance director, said the city would exceed the $30,000 in overtime budgeted for snowplowing. That is thanks largely to the huge storm earlier this month that fell on a weekend, meaning all of the long hours worked during the storm were overtime.

"That's the one that really kicked us in the head," she said.

Roland said the city is unlikely, however, to spend more than the roughly $480,000 for snowplowing included in the 2010 budget. Yet she said the city will probably be over-budget on road salt expenses after this month's blizzard.

The snowplowing budget is determined by looking at historical averages over five-year periods for the amount of time public works employees have spent plowing roads, Roland said.

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