Making sure driveways are berm-free an inexact science

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, CALIF. - Waking up in the morning to shovel snow from a driveway generally isn't considered joyful in the Northern Nevada. But going outside to find a pile of chunky ice and snow across the front of a driveway is worse for some. It can cause frustration and anger.

Much of the discussion around Lake Tahoe has focused on snowplow drivers' use of a so-called "snow gate" - an L-shaped attachment to the second blade of a snowplow designed to prevent the plow from leaving a line of snow and ice, known as a berm, across a driveway's entrance.

A Tahoe Daily Tribune reporter and photographer accompanied a snowplow driver last week to view the gate's effectiveness firsthand.

It varied.

Some driveways were left berm-free, while others got berms across the entrance.

Berm size depends heavily upon the amount of fallen snow, but the location of a home also plays a factor, said city equipment operator Dennis Hillyard.

"Everybody wants it to be perfect," Hillyard said. "It's just not the way it is."

For example, two closely-spaced driveways during the demonstration received unequal berms. The second driveway got a higher berm because not all the snow on the blade could clear out fast enough after it was raised following the first driveway. This caused snow to spill out over the gate when it was lowered as the plow crossed the second driveway.

Plowing through deep snow also can cause the gate to overflow, Hillyard said.

While complaints focused on problems within the city of South Lake Tahoe, county residents have voiced similar concerns.

"Everything was fine, then this guy came through and just slammed me," said William Withrow, a North Upper Truckee neighborhood resident, referring to a snowplow driver who left a berm across his freshly-shoveled driveway.

Opening the roads wide enough to allow emergency-service vehicles through is a priority for snow-removal operators, but widening the roads with potentially berm-creating snow plows is "counterproductive," Withrow contended.

Withrow cares for his elderly parents and said berms could just as easily prevent them from receiving emergency medical care. He suggested the issue would be solved if workers make one pass with a snowplow, followed by a pass by a rotary snowblower to widen the roads.

Rotary snowblowers prevent berms but move too slowly to keep all county roads open during a storm, said Tom Halvorson, El Dorado County highways superintendent for the Lake Tahoe Basin.

It would take "far more" than the six rotary snowblowers the county operates in the basin and staff to operate them to implement such an idea, Halvorson said.

"Every place where it snows has issues with snow berms," he said.

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