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The Snow Gate Debate

December 6, 2013, 9:57 PM by Ben Dunsmoor

The Snow Gate Debate
SIOUX FALLS, SD -

Snow gates have been praised, applauded, studied and scrutinized in Sioux Falls for more than three years.

"We felt the City needed a nudge to get this out to the people," snow gate petition organizer Theresa Stehly said.

In just four months, voters will either give snow gates the stamp of approval or send them to the scrap pile, thanks in part to Theresa Stehly who helped organize a petition drive to put the issue on the ballot.

"I think this issue educated itself. People are very aware of what's happening and I understand they're going to be out in all the different neighborhoods, so people will have that experience of what it's like to have their snow cleared from the driveway and to be spared from that big ridge of ice," Stehly said.

The benefit of snow gates is that the devices prevent that heap of snow from piling up at the end of driveways, so homeowners who've just finished shoveling don't have to bust up a pile of snow along the street.

Since 2010 the equipment has been tested in limited neighborhoods.

"When Mayor Huether came in, he wanted to essentially answer the question and so in 2010 we moved forward with the first snow gate test year," Sioux Falls Public Works Director Mark Cotter said.

Sioux Falls Public Works Director, Mark Cotter, says the City has received positive feedback from homeowners in the neighborhoods where the gates have been tested.

"We've certainly seen from the opportunities that they do reduce the amount of snow that goes into driveways. They help us as we go through intersections because we don't have that windrow of snow that goes through," Cotter said.

But after three years of analysis. the City found it will take up to four hours longer to plow the entire city with snow gates and up to 13-percent more fuel will be used. The studies also showed snow gates don't work as well during heavy snow storms of more than six inches, or during harsh winters.

"So if you have a real heavy year, say a year above our normal range, those streets can get narrow to a point that we either have to consider removing parking on one side or in some cases consider picking up the snow," Cotter said.

This winter, the City won't be collecting data on snow gates, instead it will be training plow drivers who have never used the devices. Only six City drivers have been involved in the testing the past three years.

"I want to get more people out there to run these things, because depending on the vote next year if the vote is favorable and the citizens want these, I want to be sure I have as many people know how to run these things so next year it isn't such an experiment to get 33 of these out there and only six of them have run them before," Galynn Huber said.

It will cost about $200,000 to equip 33 plows with the snow gates. Mayor Mike Huether told the City Council earlier this year that he would like to see snow gates implemented citywide.

"I was surprised that the mayor's report came out last year and I think the city council was as well saying that they weren't taking that much extra time nor were they using a lot of extra tax dollars in fuel and time to get the job done," Stehly said.

But whether the costs outweigh the benefits will be up to voters who will settle the snow gate debate at the end of this winter.

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