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A front-end loader works to clear North College Drive Wednesday, March 17, 2021, in north Cheyenne. Gov. Mark Gordon and the Laramie County Board of Commissioners issued emergency declarations Wednesday as a way to secure more resources and financial assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Michael Cummo/Wyoming Tribune Eagle

CHEYENNE – After a historic snowstorm dumped 30.8 inches on Laramie County the second weekend in March, city and county crews were left to deal with the aftermath – which left residents snowed in for days.

The storm challenged snow removal teams in numerous ways, with regular plows unable to move the incredibly wet, heavy snow and some equipment sliding off the roads. The snow removal efforts took an immense amount of overtime from city and county staff; and, for Cheyenne, included a slew of private contractors that answered Mayor Patrick Collins’ call for help.

However necessary, that response quickly added up in terms of costs. While neither the city nor county has a clear picture yet of the total amount spent responding to the storm, it is expected to be hefty. The city of Cheyenne budgeted nearly $130,000 for snow removal this year, based on past years’ costs, and Collins said, “Obviously, we blew that away.”

The cost of hiring private contractors to clear residential streets totaled between $50,000 and $60,000 each day.

“But we have millions of dollars in emergency reserves,” Collins said. “We’re going to tap into a few of those to take care of this event, but I think that’s why you have emergency reserves. That’s why it’s important for cities, towns, counties, us in our private lives, to have a reserve fund.”

Collins said he knew the city was in trouble when the majority of the city’s snow removal equipment was being used for escorting emergency vehicles like fire trucks and ambulances. That lasted between 36 and 48 hours – helping with about 50 fire responses and 125 ambulance responses, with the total CPD assists still unclear.

That’s when Collins rallied the local contractors to get around two dozen front-end loaders to help clear the streets. In addition to those costs, the city has to foot the bill for a significant amount of overtime for a variety of employees – firefighters who stayed at the firehouse for 72 hours and Public Works employees who worked 12-hour days from Sunday to Friday.

“They were my heroes,” Collins said. “All of our public safety and public works people – I didn’t hear anybody whining.” They understood the gravity of what we were up against, and then they killed it.”

Laramie County Public Works Director Dave Bumann struck the same tone, pointing out that county employees put in 1,200 hours of overtime altogether to respond to the storm.

“The 40-plus men and women that make up Public Works really did step up to the plate, and they spent a lot of hours away from their homes, their families,” Bumann said. “They were out there in the elements – white-knuckled, could barely see over the front end of the truck at times during that snowstorm – and just battled through it and really benefited the citizens of Laramie County.”

He said he expects the overtime alone will cost the county north of $30,000, though he noted that the county will not need to pull any funding from reserves or other areas to cover those costs. It was “all hands on deck” for county employees, as each plow had to be paired with a motor grader to break up the wet, heavy snow.

“Luckily, we had three of our own front-end loaders and 15 motor graders that helped us get through the storm,” Bumann said.

It is still unclear whether the county and the state as a whole saw enough damages to qualify for FEMA emergency relief funding. Gov. Mark Gordon and the Laramie County Board of Commissioners declared an emergency after the storm, but $1 million in damages must be identified across the state to be considered for a presidential emergency declaration.

If that declaration is issued, Laramie County’s municipalities will become eligible to apply for reimbursement for the costs of responding to the storm over a 48-hour period.

Margaret Austin is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s local government reporter. She can be reached at maustin@wyomingnews.com or 307-633-3152. Follow her on Twitter at @MargaretMAustin.

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