MINT HILL – Many Mint Hill residents got to take a snow day Monday, Dec. 10, as a powerful winter hit the area the day prior. What started as a snow and sleet event turned to freezing rain. At one point during the storm, it was estimated that about half the town was without power.
On Dec. 11, two days after the brunt of the storm hit, Nelson Road and Peggy Lane in Mint Hill were still closed and some residents still remained without power. Town engineer and public works director Steve Frey said downed trees were the biggest problems. Town employees can’t remove trees that become tangled in utility wires.
“Those are the only roads totally closed because Duke Energy has not got the lines out of the trees,” Frey said Dec. 11. “I’m in the middle of sending an email to their regional manager expressing our displeasure with that. Our guys do not touch trees that are touching any kind of wire, electric, cable, TV or phone. At one point, the entire stretch of 51 was out.”
Frey said more that 20 trees toppled onto streets in town during the storm, which is the most in several years. Ice also toppled trees at the town’s parks, and Veterans Park was expected to be closed for several days until crews can remove downed trees.
“The majority of those were in some sort of contact with a utility line,” Frey said. “It felt like it was more than both of the hurricanes. On my street alone, we had six or seven trees down. By the time the sun went down on Sunday, we got everything we could out of the street. Meaning anything that wasn’t touching a line. Duke made some progress (on Dec. 10), Union Power made some progress and generally they cleaned the trees out after they got them untangled. Our guys are in mop up mode today (Dec. 11).”
Frey said he expects town leaders to meet with representatives of Duke Energy in the near future to discuss how to have better coordination following storms.
“We need better coordination with our utilities, specifically our electric utilities,” Frey said. “I understand their footprint is the size of North and South Carolina and we are a tadpole in that pond. Mint Hill was one of the worst hit areas in the county. If you crossed Idlewild into Matthews, it was just rain or snow. Far less trees down, and the same in Charlotte. Yet, Mint Hill was an ice war zone. The leaders here at town hall will meet soon to get some better coordination with those utility companies.”
Employees of the Mint Hill Public Works Department had a mock snow day a few weeks ago to prepare for such a storm and that training paid off. Workers attached plows to trucks, made sure all the vehicles and other equipment was in working order and went over plans to plow and sand the streets of the town.
One key piece of equipment that came in handy was the department’s generator, which powers the public works building if there is a loss of electricity, hummed nearby while being tested days before the storm hit. The department used the generator for about eight hours on Dec. 9 until power was restored.
Frey said the town had been keeping an eye on the track of the storm since Dec. 3 and that they began preparations in earnest on Dec. 6. The town has six vehicles that can push snow and two of those trucks can also spread a mix of sand and salt.
“All the plows have been mounted, we are now going through a debugging process,” Frey said. “Typical game for us, we do more with less. We don’t buy a new plow every year. Some of these plows are 10, 15 years old and they may get a little faded but they work just fine.”
Chris Cochrane, public works operations manager, said the department is ready for whatever Mother Nature brings to the region.
“We always have a day where we put everything on and make sure everything works after everything has been sitting for several months,” Cochrane said. “Then we get everybody in and go through our plans, what they will be responsible for when they are in the trucks. We go over a lot of safety operations. We did that a couple of weeks ago.”
Frey said the town uses a tier system to clear snow and ice with major arteries getting top priority. Workers work 12-hour shifts until the roads are cleared.
“We also plow DOT roads,” Frey said. “They (DOT) are here, too, but we can hit them more frequently because we have a smaller footprint.”
Late on Dec. 6, contract crews in Mecklenburg County started pre-treating interstates with a brine solution that is a mixture of water and salt. The Monroe Expressway in Union County was also treated. That operation started with 20 brine trucks and increased to 68 trucks over the weekend. NCDOT said just under 100 trucks would be on the roads on Dec. 9 to help plow away any accumulating snow.
NCDOT crews in Mecklenburg County started the brine process on other roadways this morning, using 10 state trucks. An additional 23 contract trucks were available during the storm to help clear primary roads.
In other areas of Division 10, including Union County, state crews started brining operations on Dec. 7 and continued until all bare pavement routes were treated.
N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper declared a state of emergency before the storm and activated the National Guard to help in storm recovery. Some areas of the state saw up to two feet of snow, and Cooper urged residents to stay off roads if possible. Charlotte recorded 2.7 inches of snow.
“The more cars we have on the road, the tougher it will be for our DOT crews to treat and clear those roadways,” Cooper said before the storm. “If you absolutely must travel, clear your car of snow and ice before you drive, slow down and leave room between you and other vehicles.”