But when it does, those roads don’t plow themselves.
Enter Paul Barnett. As Akron’s Public Works Manager, he’s responsible for Highway Maintenance, Parks Maintenance, Street Cleaning, Motor Equipment, Engineering Services and the Akron Fulton International Airport.
Clearly, he’s a busy guy — and even busier on those wintry days, since he and his staff have more than 800 miles to prepare for salt and plowing distribution.
“Our staff rolls into 12-hour shifts when needed, and we go 24 hours a day until no longer needed. For me personally, 10-hour days are common in the winter,” says Barnett, a firm believer in Murphy’s Law — that anything that can go wrong will go wrong, i.e.: “It usually manages to snow every holiday and weekend in the winter.”
A civil engineer with a background in bridge design, Barnett is one of the people who ensures you can make it to work on those snowy mornings. (But don’t hold that against him.)
When does the city begin residential plowing?
We start to think about it when accumulation reaches 4 to 6 inches. It normally takes around 24 hours to plow out the entire city. If the forecast is above freezing after the storm, we let Mother Nature remove the snow. If the forecast predicts that we’ll stay below freezing with more accumulation to come, we’ll plow. One minor plow of the city can cost $100,000 with labor, material and repairing damage to the equipment.
Why does the cone-shaped salt storage building near Copley Road and 77 have an owl on the top?
We put the owl there to give people something to wonder about. But seriously, it was placed there due to a problem with birds using the dome as a nesting place. It seems to have worked. We don’t have a bird problem anymore.
What’s the hardest part of your job?
How to continue to provide a high level of service with less money each year while, at the same time, materials increase in price and health care is skyrocketing. We’re down in staff around 40 percent from 10 years ago, but we provide a higher level of service than in the past. We have a good group of people.
You were recently suspended for two days without pay for accepting Browns tickets from Cargill, a road-salt vendor — even though you later sent Cargill a check for $200. Why the suspension?
Part of our success in staying current with developments in technology is through the relationships we have with those in the private sector. I learned it’s a fine line between nurturing business relationships, while being conscious of what’s even the appearance of impropriety. Accepting the football tickets and not paying for them promptly cost me a two-day suspension. I regret the error in judgment.
Would you rather explain to somehow how a pothole becomes a pothole or how the city decides what roads to plow first?
I’d much rather discuss potholes. It’s less complicated and less personal to citizens than explaining why their street isn’t the first one we plow.
Do you prefer paving or plowing?
I’d much rather pave a street. At the end of winter, I’ve spent $4 to $5 million and have nothing to show for it but beat up bridges, roads, equipment and staff. If I could use that money to resurface roadways, I’d have something to use and enjoy for years to come.
We’ve heard using beet juice on roads keeps them from getting icy, but will it turn the underside of my car pink?
When we hear beets, we think of the purple ones we eat. Our beet juice is brown and from sugar beets. The manufacturer processes the beets so the byproduct is a desugared beet juice. It looks and feels like maple syrup. Unfortunately, it doesn’t smell or taste like it.
Do you eat beets?
I hate to eat beets. I haven’t had one since I moved out of my parent’s house 30 years ago. It’s good to be an adult.
What’s your favorite season?
Professionally, winter is the most gratifying with every storm presenting different challenges. But personally, I hate the cold of winter.
Aside from the joys of snow and ice removal, what are your favorite things to do on a wintry day?
Lay on a cruise ship in the Caribbean. If I’m in Akron, I enjoy spending time with my wife and son. I also like to lie on the cruise ship with my wife and son.
If you’ve had a rough day and need a warm bath, is rock salt a good alternative to Epsom salt?
Go for the Epsom salt. Rock salt has a blue tint, so you may end up looking like a smurf.
/ Writer Candice Monroe is an intern with Akron Life magazine.