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While some Plumas County residents seem to think the Department of Public Works isn’t as quick to plow roads and streets, they might be right. The road department has five positions open that they can’t seem to fill. Being short of drivers does make plowing slower. Photo by Victoria Metcalf

County needs snowplow drivers

Anyone who understands Plumas County’s snow knows that it doesn’t snow like it used to.

Snowfall used to be frequent and deep. Historic photos show residents digging out local streets by hand.

Everything has changed. It doesn’t storm as often. The snow usually doesn’t reach the depths once experienced. Plumas County Department of Public Works (road department) plows county roads and many want to gain employment in the department.

That last fact may be one of the biggest changes when it comes to getting a job at public works, according to Deputy Director Joe Blackwell. “We run these jobs for months,” he explained recently about recruitment attempts.

And once in awhile someone applies for one of several openings. Often they’re not qualified, when someone does finally apply, Blackwell explained. One of the many requirements to work plowing the roads is having a commercial driver license. There’s also drug testing that’s mandatory and other stipulations.

The biggest drawback, in Blackwell’s opinion, is that the starting wage is $12.96 an hour. Public works pays about half of what Caltrans pays, he explained, so naturally, people would rather work there if there’s an opening.

At one time Plumas County paid the full price for everyone’s insurance, Blackwell said. That used to mean a lot and added to the package. It made the low wages offered more acceptable. Now that county employees are required to pay part of their insurance, he said, “You can’t afford to put food on the table,” after it’s deducted from the paycheck.

This isn’t an easy job, Blackwell explained and he’s been with public works for 35 years. Plowing requires skill to operate a plow and negotiate the plowing. And it can require stamina.

Those who operate a plow when it does storm can work up to a 12-hour shift. That means going home grabbing a few hours of sleep and hitting it again, Blackwell explained. This can happen seven days a week, which will wear someone down quickly, if there is enough snow to warrant additional days of plowing.


Supervisor Sherrie Thrall said that with last week’s early snowstorm she received many calls from her Chester/Lake Almanor constituents. Thrall brought up the issue during her correspondence report to supervisors.

Some callers were unhappy that their road wasn’t plowed often enough. Others, especially in the Hamilton Branch area, were displeased that the road wasn’t plowed at all (or at least by the time individuals contacted Thrall).

Discussing the situation with Blackwell, Thrall said she learned the Chester area plow crew is short one fulltime person.

Blackwell said that the pay scale is so low most people won’t consider the job.

Wage increases

Public Works is one of the few county departments that don’t get money from the General Fund.

However, when wage increases are requested, Blackwell said supervisors tell them that if they are allowed to offer more money, it isn’t fair to the departments that do rely on the General Fund.

Blackwell is in charge of seven crews, he said following Thrall’s remarks to other supervisors. One crew handles maintenance. Then there are six crews throughout the county, including one at the very rural location of La Porte. Crews vary in size, and there are several openings — one in the Chester area and others scattered around the county. That means roads won’t get plowed as quickly as some might like.

Blackwell said that public works got hit a few years ago with the amount of money it was allocated. Supervisors were concerned about the General Fund and meeting needs with departments dependent upon it. What Public Works saw happen was a reduction in funding and that meant a reduction in the number of people they could put on a crew. With fewer people available, this meant fewer plows involved in snow removal and some members of the public waiting longer for roads to be cleared.

While crews are busy with snow removal during storms, they’re also responsible for chip sealing on county roads, brush removal and other jobs as weather allows.

Winter parking, snow removal reminder

While some residents know and respect wintertime snow removal rules, some haven’t acquainted themselves with them or simply ignore them.

Plumas Count Public Works deputy director reminds everyone that during and after snowstorms residents are legally responsible for where their vehicles are parked and where they put their snow.

Plumas County residents are not allowed to park their vehicles on county roads, on the city of Portola streets, or streets anywhere in the county, and on state highways. Crews require that all vehicles be parked off the streets, roads and highways to allow snowplow drivers to do their jobs. In short, residents must find another place to park other than in front of their houses in the public street.

“Vehicles — especially RVs and trailers — that are parked on the street make snow removal that much more difficult,” Blackwell explained. “And they contribute to the narrowing of traffic lanes, making winter driving tougher on all of us.”

“More than just a big lump in the snow, such vehicles are a hazard to motorists and are subject to damage from snow plows and other vehicles,” Blackwell said.

Plumas County Code Section 4-3.502 and the California Vehicle Code CVC 22510 prohibit parking a vehicle on the road or street right-of-way, or in any way hindering snow removal.

This means that no one is allowed to park on or along the pavement, at the end of a street, around a cul-de-sac or on the shoulder of the road during snow removal.

“These are the locations that are needed for snow storage,” Blackwell explained. “If you need to park on the street short term, go ahead, but keep in mind that your vehicle needs to be out of the way when the plow comes by — especially after dark — and you can’t park out there at all if you will be blocking a lane.”

Violation of the codes can mean that an offender can have his or her vehicle towed away. The expense is born by the vehicle owner. Public works can issue a citation because it takes up the department’s time and your money, Blackwell said.

Blackwell encourages people who don’t have a driveway, garage or somewhere to more conveniently park a vehicle to plan ahead. Get a parking spot off the street and make sure it’s accessible when it storms is part of that planning.

This law applies to vehicles, but it also applies to trailers, boats, RVs and disabled vehicles as well, Blackwell said. “So it’s time to find a place for them, too.”

The winter parking law also requires removal of basketball stands that allow players to use the street as a court and firewood and other things that might block the right-of-way. “If the snowplow can hit it, it needs to be moved,” Blackwell said.

Where to place the snow is also a prime concern for not only public works employees, but neighbors as well.

Whether using a snow blower, shoveling the stuff or plowing it from walkways, driveways or private roads, Blackwell reminds everyone that it doesn’t belong in the street.

The act of putting snow or other materials on a public right-of-way such as the street or a public road is a violation of California Vehicle Code 23112 and Section 724 of the California Streets and Highways Code. It is considered a misdemeanor.

“When public works snowplow operators attempt to plow through your pile of snow, most of it will become part of the berm in front of your property or your neighbor’s,” Blackwell explained.

“What’s worse is that the rest of it will stay in the street as an icy, dangerous bump that could contribute to an accident,” he said.

Therefore residents are encouraged to keep the snow on their own property.

For more information, contact the Plumas County Department of Public Works at 283-6268.

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