Busy time of year for Saranac Lake DPW

Jeff Dora, superintendent of the Saranac Lake Village Department of Public Works, smiles in May 2017 as DPW workers dig up Elm Street to replace underground pipes. Jon Keith is in the hole, Nick Pelletieri is beside it and Jason Rupp is operating the excavator. (Enterprise photo — Peter Crowley)

Because I enjoy watching big machines dig holes as much as the next guy, I stopped Tuesday morning to take a few photos of the Saranac Lake Village Department of Public Works replacing pipes under Elm Street.

Just at that moment, DPW Superintendent Jeff Dora pulled up, and as we stood and talked under the warm spring sun, he gave me a rundown of the projects his crews are working on, now and in the weeks ahead. It seemed like the kind of information many Enterprise readers would want to know, so I took notes and am passing it on to you here.

Everyone has his or her own viewpoint on what the DPW does, doesn’t do, should do or should do better — after all, we homeowners pay good money in taxes for its services. My point here is not to comment on any of that but rather to update taxpayers on what the DPW is, in fact, doing now and in the upcoming weeks — which is a lot.

“We’ve got more jobs than guys,” Dora said.

For the record, the DPW has a year-round staff of 18: 10 on streets, seven on water-sewer, and Dora, plus three to four summer parks workers.

Spring cleaning

First off, Dora ticked off the regular spring maintenance work. Heavy sweeping of streets is over with, Dora said, and workers will use lighter sweepers periodically in the weeks ahead to clean up more sand from the winter. Park preparation is underway; I’ve seen the workers mowing the fast-growing grass after the rainy weekend.

Soon the DPW will install the docks at Riverside Park; Dora said they may wait on the ones near the Lake Flower Avenue tennis courts since that park is quite wet.

And don’t forget preparing the Lake Colby beach, he added. Summer is coming soon.

Some rough roads

Then it’ll be on to patching potholes. There are so many left over from the winter’s frost. Where to start?

“Take your pick,” Dora joked — quickly adding that they start with the spots where roads had to be dug up this winter to fix broken water pipes.

Some streets are too rough to just patch. Elm and Keene are getting a total overhaul right now, just as Academy and Garden streets did last year, and many others over the years.

“We’re looking hard at Olive Street next year — there, throw that one in there,” Dora said with a knowing look as I took notes. “Throw it in, and maybe people will get off my back.”

Olive Street, a major traffic conduit to and from the high school, is definitely pitted and potholed near the Sunset Arboretum and the Alliance Church. Ever since late winter, I’ve been hearing people talk about how it needs work, and the DPW chief clearly has as well. And he’s making plans accordingly, which is good to hear.

It’s not the only one, of course. I’d say Ampersand Avenue near the civic center is just as bad.

Here on Elm, an excavator is moving dirt and blacktop from the hole in the road into a dump truck, and to a pile beside the hole. Some of the dirt will surely go back into the hole, but much of it, along with the asphalt chunks, will be taken to the old village landfill off McKenzie Pond Road. And that’s another story.

Athletic fields — eventually

Mayor Clyde Rabideau has talked for years about turning the old landfill into athletic fields. Among other things, they would be useful for the annual Can-Am Rugby Tournament in August. It’s a good idea, but it would be more expensive than was originally thought — maybe too expensive.

Engineers have said the landfill would need at least 5 feet of dirt and fill on top to protect its liner, and some of the landfill’s vents would need to be piped out to the sides. Just a single rugby field would need more than 67,000 cubic yards of dirt.

Nevertheless, the village is chipping away at it.

The DPW is good at digging up dirt — literally, not figuratively — as was evident Tuesday on Elm Street. It needs to dump that stuff somewhere, and if it does so at the landfill, it can put that dirt to good use. A couple of times a year, Dora said, the DPW screens out the clean fill — rock and pavement, for instance — and spreads the dirt. The clean fill will be crushed to make gravel for a road on the site.

But from all its digging projects, the village only generates about 5,000 yards of dirt a year. At that rate, even now, a couple of years into this process, it could take another decade.

On the other hand, every year that goes by means the village would have to buy less dirt if it decides to pull the trigger and make this project happen.

Fun stuff

The heavy machinery and digging on Elm and Keene streets provide great entertainment for neighborhood children, and the big boys like it, too, Dora said.

“These guys like doing this stuff,” he said of the crew digging the hole. “They’d rather do this than other stuff.”

Like what? Flushing hydrants and sewer lines are often seen as boring tasks, Dora said, whereas when workers repair a road from the bottom up, they feel satisfied that they’re improving their hometown.

Plus, he added, “It’s like every kid: You like to play with the big toys.”