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Washington's unwanted snow has to go somewhere as deposits spring up

By Michael E. Ruane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 10, 2010; A10

A new mountain range is rising near the shores of the Anacostia River -- its grimy peaks circled by hungry seagulls, its icy surface scrutinized by crows from nearby trees.

It is a man-made range, tended Tuesday by Jabar L. Brown, 29, of the District's Department of Public Works, and his big yellow front-end loader.

It is made of snow. Nasty snow.

And with Wednesday's forecast, it seems sure to get bigger.

Across the region, local governments are grappling with the sheer volume of snow that is falling on Washington and its environs.

Only so much can be plowed or piled. Many places, such as highways, have limited room for plowed and piled snow. The rest must be moved or liquefied.

Since the weekend, truckloads of snow have been hauled away and deposited in snow dumps throughout the area. The District has been using 15 trucks to haul its excess snow to a parking lot on the campus of the old D.C. General Hospital, south of RFK Stadium, near the office of the city's Chief Medical Examiner.

The mounds -- about 20 feet high and 50 yards long -- are growing so large that William O. Howland Jr., head of the Department of Public Works, joked the other day that soon people might be able to ski there.

"You can," Brown said on Tuesday, chuckling as he stood beside the mounds. "If you want me to, I can pull it back and slope it off for you. You could definitely come and have a good time."

The site, a slushy lot surrounded by bare trees, would be a dreary venue, though, with the gulls and cackling crows the only spectators.

"You can only imagine how long it's going to take for this snow to actually melt," Brown said. "That's why we've been hauling it in bulk like this as if it was actually waste. . . . If you just try to push it to the side and [let] it sit, you're going to have piles like this all around the city.

"You don't want nothing like that just sitting on the corner," he said.

And it can't be dumped into the Potomac River because it contains too much road salt, District officials have said.

Virginia has been trucking loads of snow to land beneath the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, where gray mounds rose Tuesday amid the drone of traffic from the bridge overhead.

The state's Department of Transportation estimated that its trucks would be relocating 500,000 tons of snow just from the weekend's storm. The snow on "I-95, the HOV lanes, the Beltway -- all of that stuff has to be hauled away," said Joan Morris, a department spokeswoman.

Montgomery County has been hauling snow to three sites: Wheaton Regional Park, South Germantown Recreational Park and an old county waste facility in Calverton, a spokeswoman said.

There is, however, an alternative to hauling. Aero Snow Removal of Port Washington, N.Y., removes snow at Dulles International Airport and other airports across the country with the help of melting machines. The tractor-trailer-size dump trucks with burners inside that can run on jet fuel can melt 600 tons of snow an hour.

Company accounts manager Rick Stein says the firm has at least six melters stationed at Dulles. The company plows and piles the snow from about 350 acres of non-runway space at the airport. (The airport handles the runways, Stein said.) The snow is then scooped with front end loaders and dumped into the open top of the trailer.

Inside, it is melted by the 2,400-degree burners and emptied into nearby storm drains. "It's an instant process," he said. "It's like a dump truck, except it never fills up.

"It's a monster," he said of the melter, which burns about 800 gallons of fuel an hour. "We push it, pile it and melt it."

Unfortunately, he said, such machines "don't lend themselves to doing driveways."

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