From ‘climbing the walls’ to doing ‘a happy dance,’ Tri-Citians rate snow response

Clearing snow drifts in Benton County

Here's a video of Benton County road crews clearing snow drifts taller than most vehicles on Sellards Road. Workers report windy conditions continue to move the drifts even after they've been cleared.
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Here's a video of Benton County road crews clearing snow drifts taller than most vehicles on Sellards Road. Workers report windy conditions continue to move the drifts even after they've been cleared.

Retirees Debra and Jim McGrogan live on a cul-de-sac near Richland’s Sacajawea Elementary.

They accept that residential streets like theirs are a low priority for snow plowing. But a week after winter storms dumped more than 16 inches on the Tri-Cities, the McGrogans grew tired of being trapped at home.

Jim, a Hanford retiree, recruited his neighbors to free his all-wheel drive vehicle from his snowed-in driveway. He used his new-found freedom to go buy a snow blower.

Then, he began clearing the neighborhood himself.

The McGrogans were among more than 100 Tri-City Herald readers who answered an online survey to rate the region’s response to the storms.

While readers praised snow plow crews to the heavens, many were frustrated at how long it took plows to reach residential streets, saying they were trapped at home far longer than expected.

Snow blower survey
Jim McGrogan uses his new snow blower to clear snow from his driveway on Franklin Street in Richland. McGrogan said he bought the blower after a city plow ended up blocking the cul-de-sac’s driveways. Bob Brawdy Tri-City Herald

“I am from the Midwest where it snows by the buckets. Here, where it doesn’t snow, they did the best they could! The crews did awesome and I would like to say, Thank you!” was a typical comment.

School response praised

Virtually everyone agreed that schools clearly communicated when classes were canceled or delayed. And 95 percent said businesses, transit and government agencies that closed for safety reasons made the right call.

“Better to keep safe than going to funerals,” one commented.

When it came to clearing snow off roads and streets, readers were split.

Half said the cities and counties did an “excellent,” “very good” or “good” job of clearing off snow.

The other half rated the response as “poor” or “fail.”

Suzanne Jaquish takes advantage of a lull in the snowfall Friday to shovel her driveway and sidewalk in front of her home on West 20th Avenue in Kennewick. Bob Brawdy Tri-City Herald

The McGrogans ticked off the “fail” box.

Debra is no stranger to preparing for bad weather. She grew up on an isolated farm in the Midwest, the daughter of Great Depression survivors. Her freezer is packed and she hit the grocer store before the first storm hit.

But after a week of being stuck in the cul-de-sac and eating out of the freezer, she was anxious for her husband to snow blow his way to the main road.

“I’ve got to get out of this house today,” she said. “I’m climbing the walls.”

Her first stop: The grocery store. To stock up.

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Stuck at home by clogged streets

Richland came in for the heaviest criticism, with multiple residents complaining that they were left stuck in their homes for days because they couldn’t leave their driveways.

“Snow plow made ONE sweep down middle of street. No pushing snow to side or anything. Terrible. I am a Senior Citizen and have not been able to get out for a week,” one Meadows East resident commented.

Richland emergency workers used a borrowed snowmobile to transport a patient on unplowed roads to a waiting ambulance. Courtesy Richland Fire and Emergency Services

Hollie Logan, the city’s spokeswoman, said the complaints were atypical.

“For every one of the negative comments you shared ... , we received an even more overwhelming response of support and gratitude from citizens who acknowledged our efforts,” she said after the Herald shared a sample of the negative comments.

She said the city will evaluate its response to the storms and make any adjustments.

Snowy sidewalks

Dori Luzzo Gilmour, a former Richland City Council member, said she was disappointed at how few businesses and property owners shoveled their sidewalks, as required by city codes.

She offered to clear a drug store’s sidewalk, which leads to Jefferson Elementary School, if the store would salt it afterward. Store personnel mistakenly insisted it was the city’s responsibility.

Snow-blocked sidewalks force kids and pedestrians onto streets.

“We need to make sure that it’s safe. There’s people walking up the streets,” she said.

RSD plow snow
A tractor outfitted with a snow plow blade clears the parking lot of Carmichael Middle School early in Richland. Bob Brawdy Tri-City Herald

Ann Hull and her family are experiencing their first Tri-City winter after moving to Pasco about a year ago. They live on a cul-de-sac in a newer neighborhood on the west side that didn’t see a plow for days.

“We were snowed in pretty well,” she said.

The family eventually dug out so their son could get to work. Hull has nothing but praise for the plow driver who eventually came to her street. The driver took time to remove the snow berm he’d created at the ends of driveways.

“We did a happy dance when the plow arrived,” she said.

She met neighbors over the snow and watched in amazement as apparent strangers raced to help people who asked for help on a Facebook page dedicated to managing the snowstorm.

“It was amazing to see all these people who didn’t know each other, offering to help where they could,” she said.

Christopher Seger, a former Tri-Citian who was in town for a social event, said he was shocked when he was running errands over the weekend. Few roads were plowed and trouble spots such as West Quinault near Columbia Center hadn’t been closed down, leaving cars piled up at the base.

“There were people in their own vehicles clearing their own streets,” he said.

Snow plowed cars.jpg
Vehicles parked near the Phoenix Manor Apartments in the 500 block of South Olympia Street in Kennewick seemed destined to remain place until the snow thaws or a rigorous shovel session. Bob Brawdy Tri-City Herald

Region unprepared?

Eric Conden, a 40-year Kennewick resident, wants to see the community plan ahead for bad weather.

“I’m extremely disappointed in the cities,” he said. “I know it costs a lot to maintain preparedness. but it’s something that needs to be done.”

Ignacio Cardenas, who lives near Maya Angelou Elementary in western Pasco, said he was able to get around in an all-wheel drive vehicle even though his street wasn’t plowed for several days.

Cardenas said he was happy with the information the city and school district put out. Texts from the school district kept him apprised of school closures. The city’s social media posts clearly explained which roads would be plowed first.

“It’s pretty obvious — you’ve got to clean the main streets,” he said. “Overall, I didn’t really have any issues.

Safety first for employees

If there’s one thing Tri-Citians agree on, it’s safety. As public and private agencies closed early — or altogether — few questioned the decision.

“It’s always a tough call to not open for business but I think it was a good choice so there weren’t as many cars on the road. Plows could work faster not having to wait in traffic,” wrote one commenter.

“Love that they care about their employees safety!” added another.

“Worried about workers’ pay, but good call,” said another.

Snow plow lights
A city of Kennewick snowplow illuminates the pre-dawn darkness as it works its way south on Dayton Street. Bob Brawdy Tri-City Herald

A Finley mother said she was upset that Benton County stopped plowing roads during blizzard conditions on Saturday and that Ben Franklin Transit halted operations.

Jeri Randle said her son, who uses the transit agency’s taxi feeder service, would have been stranded at his Kennewick job if she hadn’t been able to collect him during the storm — in a two-wheel drive pickup. Public agencies should be better prepared, she said.

“They’re not businesses. Businesses have a choice whether to operate or not. Public offices don’t. They need to do their jobs in the snow,” she said.

Snow tracked plow
Joel Micka, owner of Storage Systems Northwest, powers a track-driven side-by-side UTV outfitted with a snowplow across a parking lot in Kennewick. Bob Brawdy Tri-City Herald

Ali Madison, spokeswoman for Ben Franklin Transit, said the agency made a safety call to shut down when whiteout conditions overtook the region.

She pledged to investigate the complaint, but noted staffers spent the afternoon collecting stranded riders, as did police officers.

“It’s never our intention to leave anyone stranded,” she said.

Benton County had not received a complaint about the situation.

Spokeswoman Shyanne Faulconer said the severe weather conditions forced the county to curtail plowing and that it kept the public updated about many rural closures through its website and social media.

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Wendy Culverwell writes about local government and politics, focusing on how those decisions affect your life. She also covers key business and economic development changes that shape our community. Her restaurant column and health inspection reports are reader favorites. She’s been a news reporter in Washington and Oregon for 25 years.