For the first time this winter, Sheriff Rodney Smith called a level three snow storm Sunday, a rare occasion where all roads are closed for a set time.
Smith has the sole responsibility to decide the levels based on snow and ice levels, Charlie Adkins, Athens county commissioner, said.
For a level three to occur, the roads must be so icy or snowy that ambulances and the Ohio Department of Transportation, or ODOT, trucks are struggling to drive through the county. All nonemergency vehicles are not permitted on the roads. Unless there are special circumstances, a driver may be cited for being out.
Smith said he takes caution in calling a level three because of how much of Athens is shut down. He averages about two a season.
By calling a level three, that gives ODOT the opportunity to start de-icing the roads. In that situation, Smith said he wants to get the roads up and running as soon as the ice starts to set in. There are varying opinions, but some say the chemicals are more productive when there are cars driving on the roads.
On Sunday, the deputies on duty called Smith at 3 a.m. to give word that the roads were too slick to drive on.
“It’s gotta be bad because there was a layer of ice and snow,” Smith said. “If a point where ODOT and the county road crews can’t get around or ambulances, we gotta do something quick just for public safety.”
Deciding to call a level three can be difficult because of the size of the county, which about 503 square miles. Sometimes some areas of the county are barely covered in ice and other areas are covered. He joked that there is a line in the middle of the county. From Guysville to Coolville, the weather is completely different than Athens County.
“It’s not the same everywhere, so you could call a level two and like what the heck is going on,” Smith said. “There is nothing in Coolville.”
Smith said he is not aware of how other counties deal with larger snow storms. In more metropolitan areas, like Franklin County, it is more difficult to shut down roads unlike rural areas like Athens.
While the sheriff calls the levels, the county commissioners oversee snow preparation and cleanup of sidewalks and parking lots. Adkins said when he thinks there will be a big snow, he calls his maintenance supervisor, Jeff Gabriel, who oversees salting and cleanup of some of the sidewalks. Adkins said he likes getting involved in helping clear the sidewalks.
“We laugh and we just have a good time here, so for me it’s not work,” Atkins said. “I mean for them it’s more work. I can quit, they got to continue on. It’s enjoyable and I think we have a pretty good time doing it.”
When it comes to the snow prep budget, the funds come from the buildings and grounds budget, rather than a lump sum. Some of the costs involved in snow prep are salt and overtime when snowstorms happen over the weekend, Gabriel said. They keep a couple thousand pound bags and are ready to buy more when they run out. The bags range about $5 to $12.
Adkins said some of their priority buildings for snow removal are the sheriff’s office, the courthouse and the county commissioner’s office.
Road snow removal falls on the county engineer and the ODOT trucks, but the sheriff’s office takes the role of helping make sure the roads are safe for driving.