As winter snow disappears, public works crew lauded for work to keep roads clear

With last weekend’s heavy snowfall disappearing, City of Edmonds Public Works and Utilities Director Phil Williams said he is “justifiably proud” of the work his employees put in to ensure the city was able to keep the roads clear.

“We have a very dedicated and experienced staff that takes weather events like this very seriously,” Williams said. “They see a storm as their time to shine. Working 12-hour shifts consecutively, especially at night, when your biorhythms are telling you that you should be asleep, is taxing. Operating a snow plow for hours on end takes considerable focus and an ability to think well ahead of the plow blade. Any lapse in concentration can result in an accident and potentially an injury.”

To the staff’s credit, no one was unavailable or called in sick during the snowstorm, Williams said. “That is always a huge plus and speaks to the reliability and professionalism of our public works employees. I am justifiably proud of all they do for the city and often amazed by it.”

Good weather prior to the event and the type of storm itself also helped, Williams added. “We had several days to check our readiness and good weather and plenty of time to prepare for our response, including putting down a good anti-ice application right before the snow hit. We had great support from our mechanics to keep all of our equipment on the road and available.”

Because Edmonds is a smaller city, “we are only able to get a maximum of four truck plows and our de-ice truck on the road at any one time,” he explained. “That is all we can really justify economically and it matches well with the upper limits of our currently available labor pool. It is key that our mechanics keep all of this equipment ready to go in the winter months and also be prepared to quickly repair anything that breaks to maximize equipment uptime.” Part of annual winter preparations for public works staff includes ensuring there are spare parts on hand for plows and trucks, replacement chains for the work trucks and police vehicles, and adequate supplies of deicing chemicals, salt and sand.

Finally, Williams said, the storm “was somewhat different, in a good way, from many that we see here. It happened quickly, dumped a fair amount of snow that was not too dry and fluffy but also not too wet and heavy. That made it ideal for plowing efficiency.” And the temperatures warmed quickly, the snow began to melt with no additional freezing.

“We often get a few days toward the end of a snow event where it melts during the day and freezes hard again at night,” he said. “That allows ice to build up, which can be very resistant to conventional plowing. That makes the roads much slicker, especially when you get some additional snow falling on top of the ice.”


  1. How are Edmonds residents and business owners doing in terms of this EMC
    9.20.050? :

    It states that it is the responsibility of adjacent property owners to maintain the sidewalks which I’m guessing would include snow and ice removal? Or does the city clear the sidewalks of snow and ice so pedestrians can safely travel?

    In most local cities, this code is not being enforced and ADA violations are rampant as folks who need to travel in wheelchairs and walkers are simply not able to get to the store. The sidewalks are usually even unsafe for pedestrians who are not disabled. Can you imagine trying to ride a wheelchair over piles of snow that the plows have pushed onto the sidewalk or have blocked the entrance from the sidewalk to the roadway? Or a person who is seeing impaired using a white cane to navigate the piles of snow where they should be able to freely walk?

    1. From a story we wrote during heavy snow in 2019:

      When it comes to city sidewalks, Edmonds property owners are responsible for ensuring that sidewalks adjacent to their homes are snow- and ice-free. That’s according to City Development Director Shane Hope, who was responding to a question from a My Edmonds News reader.

      Under city code, Hope said, “property owners are responsible for maintaining adjacent sidewalks. Thus, they are legally liable if someone is hurt from slipping on an adjacent sidewalk that the property owner has not reasonably maintained from snow and ice hazards.”

      While a property owner could theoretically be fined $100 per day, “the city recognizes that snow and ice conditions are relatively rare in our region and extenuating circumstances sometimes make it difficult for property owners to immediately clear the adjacent sidewalks,” Hope said.

      Enforcing such penalties for short-term circumstances “is generally not a high priority for limited city resources,” she added. “Regardless, we strongly urge property owners to maintain the adjacent sidewalks and recognize their responsibility for people’s safety.”

      1. I emailed Shane Hope an email that started as follows on February 10, 2019:
        Ms. Hope,
        Per MRSC:
        In the Rivett v. Tacoma decision (123 Wn.2d 573 (1994)), the state supreme court invalidated Tacoma ordinance provisions that imposed liability upon abutting property owners for damages caused by defective sidewalks, regardless of fault. Tacoma’s ordinance was not based upon the statutory provisions of chapters 35.68 through 35.70 RCW. It was based upon the city’s authority as a first class city to regulate public rights-of-way, including sidewalks, and upon its nuisance authority.
        If your jurisdiction has a provision that imposes liability upon property owners for injuries caused by sidewalk conditions, particularly where there is no requirement of a finding that the property owner caused the hazardous sidewalk conditions, it is advisable to remove that provision. If you have questions about the validity of your sidewalk ordinance in light of Rivett, we suggest you contact legal counsel.
        Ms. Hope – Abutting property owners did not cause the snow and ice on sidewalks. As such, how could there ever be such a finding?
        Furthermore, doesn’t your message to citizens expose the City to liability should a citizen be injured while shoveling snow or suffer a heart attack? Shoveling snow can be a health hazard. Per
        Heart attacks become more of a risk during strenuous snow-clearing because blood pressure and heart rates spike while cold air constricts blood vessels and decreases the amount of oxygen received by the heart, according to Metro Health. When these factors combine and a person isn’t in peak health, shoveling can be a deadly activity.
        In a subsequent email, I asked her to:
        Also, please add ECC 9.20.100(I) to the list of Code Sections that need to be considered for rewrite.

  2. Thank you to Phil Williams and the entire crew! They are truly dedicated and are out in the worst of it to help keep us safe. They do a great job and are greatly appreciated!

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