Agencies spent more than $1 million battling snow in Whatcom County

A Whatcom County snowplow clears Birch Bay Drive Monday morning, Dec.  22, 2008.
A Whatcom County snowplow clears Birch Bay Drive Monday morning, Dec. 22, 2008.

The major December storm that crippled portions of Whatcom County took a heavy toll on government budgets.

It appears that Whatcom County again has had to spend the most combating snow, generally because it has so many miles of major roads to clear.

Some costs of the storm are not yet finalized, particularly for the Washington State Department of Transportation. But the county spent between $700,000 and $750,000 from Dec. 12 to Dec. 27, said Mary Green, the county's public works maintenance and operations superintendent.

The county spent about $575,000 during the major November-December 2006 storm, according to Bellingham Herald archives.

The city of Bellingham nearly doubled its costs from the 2006 snow that lasted for about a week, shutting down schools and, at one point, City Hall.

The city spent about $190,000 from Dec. 12 to about Dec. 27, said Chad Bedlington, the city's Public Works street division superinten-dant.

That figure includes labor, equipment, salt, sand and chemical de-icer, Bedlington said, though labor costs haven't been further bro-ken down. In 2006 the city spent about $100,000.

Bellingham crews used 184 tons of salt and 756 tons of sand during the December 2008 storms, Bedlington said. They also used about 1,500 gallons of de-icer early on.

And yes, Bedlington said, the city ended up over budget for the storm. The city's street fund contained about $113,000, but January 2008 storms also forced the city to spend more than predicted this year. Officials are hoping something similar doesn't happen in Janu-ary 2009.

Forecasts so far are unclear on that, but Cliff Mass, a University of Washington atmospheric scientist who recently wrote a book and is a frequent guest on Seattle's National Public Radio affiliate KUOW, pointed out that the last time this area saw such a major storm was 12 years ago, in 1996. Before that, the Puget Sound region had major storms in 1985. A lot of monthly snow and cold records go back to the 1950s, Mass said.

The state DOT won't have fully compiled numbers until next week. But DOT officials said previously that as of Dec. 22 crews had used about 2,700 tons of sand, 5,800 gallons of liquid de-icer and 500 tons of salt on Whatcom County highways. That was with about a week of snow to go.

Compare that to the last major storm, in late November to early December 2006, when DOT crews used some 260 tons of solid de-icer and 1,200 gallons of the liquid de-icer. During that storm the state spent about $175,000 in the Whatcom County region.

Reach Sam Taylor at sam.taylor@bellinghamherald.com or call 715-2263. Read his Politics Blog at TheBellinghamHerald.com/blogs.