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Snow Shovels, Dump Trailers, And Graders: Unalaskans Battle First Big Snowstorm Of The Season

Courtesy of Tom Cohenour

Piles of melting snow line the streets and crowd parking lots across the island, shrinking by the hour, as they freeze and eventually melt into Unalaska's bays and rivers. 

They are the remainder of the community's first major snow storm of the season: a storm that brought with it heavy snow drifts, a surge in snow shovel sales at the local stores and very long days for the city's roads crew.


"You could probably cut those guys loose at 4:30," Director of Public Works Tom Cohenour told his acting Roads Chief Brian Rankin over the phone. "I think [the crew's] put in a long day already and certainly a long week. So we can go back at it again tomorrow. Weather looks like it'll be pretty warm, above freezing, so I'd be prepared for some sloppy, sticky snow."

Rankin and his crew had been working 12-hour days trying to get the roads clear, he said. He'd leave his house around 5 a.m., get an idea of what conditions looked like, and then he'd start coordinating plows, graders, and crew members. 

At the time of Cohenour and Rankin's conversation on Tuesday, snow had begun melting as a warm weather front was moving in. And it was clear that some warmer temperatures and a bit of slush could be a relief to the crew.

The island's recent snowfall was the most Cohenour said he'd seen during his six years working as director of public works. And the cleanup for that snowfall required all the horsepower the department could gather, including some help from other organizations outside the public works department.

"We have three contractors," he said. "One contractor is Bering Shai with two side dump [trailers] and three loaders, Moore Recycling had two loaders and Northern Alaska Contractors had two of those big offroad trucks and one loader. So in total, the contractors had 10 pieces of heavy equipment, in addition to the city's 19 pieces."

Credit Courtesy of Kristy Corbett
During the recent storm, Kingston Corbett began a small snow removal business through a local Facebook page.


But the city and its contractors weren't the only ones putting in extra hours clearing roads and driveways. A local 12-year-old also stepped up to help keep Unalaskans mobile during the storm.

Kingston Corbett is like a lot of kids his age. He's active and enjoys being outside, but one thing that sets Corbett apart from his peers is his recent business endeavor. 

"I [offer] snow plowing and snow shoveling," Corbett said. "We have a snowblower, but it's a plug-in one, which is kind of a downside to it."

Corbett's mom helped him advertise his snow shoveling business on a local Facebook page. And now he's shoveling and snow plowing Unalaskans' driveways for a going rate of whatever they think is fair. A rate that, according to Corbett, has worked out pretty well for him so far.

The snow may be starting to melt now, but Corbett's prepared for the end of this freelance gig, as he also offers babysitting and does other odd jobs. He says he hopes to eventually save enough money to buy himself a four wheeler. 

And although he may be out of a plowing job for a little while, according to Cohenour, there's still plenty of work for the city's roads crew to take care of.

"We're making sure that there's as much snow removed as we can possibly get removed," he said. "And we're making sure that it's [dumped] in an area that when and if it melts in the next week or so, we don't get flooded. So that's about the best we can do." 

Cohenour said he doesn't anticipate that storm drains will freeze and cause flooding unless the grading around them gets blocked by big chunks of ice. Regardless, he said the crew is standing by with propane torches and excavators.

Hailing from Southwest Washington, Maggie moved to Unalaska in 2019. She's dabbled in independent print journalism in Oregon and completed her Master of Arts in English Studies at Western Washington University — where she also taught Rhetoric and Composition courses.
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