We suspect Missoula Street Superintendent Brian Hensel agreed to an interview only because it offered a brief respite from the chaos around his department's building, which was ground zero for coordinating snow removal following the seventh biggest snowstorm—about 16 inches fell between last Tuesday and Thursday—in Missoula's recorded history.
The affable, forthright Hensel, wearing a cap on his bald head, jeans and a well-worn Carhartt jacket over a hoody, leaned back in his chair, hands behind his head, and kicked his black leather boots up onto the desk in his office, which is decorated with PBR, Miller Light and Hamms signs. He's got 12 years—the past 11 as superintendent—under his belt, and while he's sleep deprived, he seems surprisingly unfazed by the weeklong effort to dig out Missoula.
And that's probably good, because the city's been digging another hole. As of Tuesday, the city had spent $18,000 on overtime hours, $3,000 more than had been budgeted for the entire winter. "It's one of those deals where obviously we can't quit working," Hensel says.
Hensel's team consists of 28 people—22 full-timers, three seasonals, two foremen and an administrator. They have about 20 rigs—plows, deicers, sanders, graders, loaders, blowers and blades. They were running non-stop, with operators working 14-hour shifts. His secretary fielded more than 100 calls a day.
On Monday night, when Hensel updated City Council on the status of snow removal, he said all of the phone calls they'd received were "wonderful." The sarcasm was as thick as the rock-hard snow berm on the Orange Street Bridge.
"Some of them were angry, a couple of them were belligerent, most of them were requests for plowing residential streets that we hadn't gotten to yet," Hensel said in his office. "Some of them were, 'You shouldn't be getting paid, you're wasting taxpayers money.' 'If you're going to plow, do it right.' Blah, blah, blah...The real pissy ones, they'll call, swear at you and be belligerent, and then leave no number, no name."
Lighten up, Missoula! Jeez. And here we thought you were all entertaining yourselves by "frosting," skiing downtown and building 12-foot-high snowmen.
In any case, the work isn't done. Hensel's crew has turned to clearing the center berms in downtown and elsewhere, clearing storm drain inlets so the eventual melt doesn't cause a flood—and hoping to finish it all before the next big dump.