This winter has been hard on everyone in the Northwoods but for workers in the various city of Rhinelander Departments, it has been especially long.
Battling cold temperatures, freezing pipes and heavy snowfalls, some city workers have been putting in 10 to 13 hours a day sometimes seven days a week.
“It takes special people to get up early every morning after working all day the day before,” Rhinelander Mayor Dick Johns said. “Plow crews get up at 3 a.m. I really think they did a great job this year.”
Not only was plowing a major factor in extra hours worked, the relentless cold led to several frozen pipes that required water department personnel to put in lots of overtime.
“We had more than 500 freeze ups,” Johns said. “Some places they had to go back to three or four times. These guys were working seven days a week at times.”
While the freeze ups garnered most of the attention, Johns said every city department stepped up to help out this winter.
One example of that was the parks department and public works department helping to dig out fire hydrants which is usually the water department’s responsibility.
“It was a total team effort,” Johns said. “Everyone chipped in. And the best part of it was no one complained. No one said anything negative. They came in and did what needed to be done. That is not easy to get up at 3 a.m. and not leave until late afternoon and then have to get up at 3 a.m. the next morning and do it all again. But we didn’t have anyone call in or try to get out of it.”
Johns said the team effort extended to the office staff as well.
“We fielded a lot of phone calls and sometimes people were angry,” Johns said. “But the clerks and those that took the calls showed great professionalism and that made the situation better. I have heard from a lot of citizens how much they appreciate how the city staff treated them.”
Johns said he personally makes it a priority to get back to everyone that calls him with an issue.
“I want people to know that they are being heard,” Johns said. “I try to make sure to return every call I get. I think that helps people and can make the situation better.”
While the city crews put in long hours already this winter, when spring comes, it will present its own issues.
The slight thaw the area experienced recently showed how quickly melting snow can reek havoc on the city’s infrastructure as several areas saw water bubbling out of the storm sewers.
“This is an old city and we are working on projects to improve what’s under the streets like we did on the south side last summer,” Johns said. “The problem is this winter was so cold that ice was ineffective for making the streets safe so we had to use sand. When that sand gets into the sewer, it doesn’t go anywhere and it builds up.”
City crews will have to work to remove that sand to help alleviate flooding.
Another potential issue will be the potholes that are sure to crop up once the snow and frost retreats.
“We are anticipating having a lot of potholes to fill this spring,” Johns said. “That will be another project these guys are going to have to work on.”
Summer should be somewhat of a relief for city workers but only in comparison to the work hours this winter.
“Summer is always a busy time,” Johns said. “But in the summer when the weather isn’t working against us, we have to allow them some time off.”
Still several construction projects are on the agenda for the city this summer which will keep workers busy.
Johns said with the schedule city workers have to keep, it is important that the citizens of Rhinelander recognize their efforts.
“Every city worker deserves thanks for their efforts,” Johns said. “And the city of Rhinelander is proud of its employees.”