Island gets winter break

Winslow's Eagle Harbor Congregational Church.
— image credit: Richard D. Oxley

The night was bare and cold when islanders went to sleep Tuesday evening, but by Wednesday morning they awoke to at least four inches of snow blanketing the island and its roads.

While Wednesday was enjoyable for many island residents who got out for a walk or a slippery sled ride in the snowy scenery, the winter wonderland quickly turned into an icy mess causing roads to need continuous attention.

The city’s Public Works Department spent Tuesday preparing for the coming snowstorm.

Work crews were placed on 12-hour shifts and remained operating as such until the weather would subside. Four plows were dispatched to clear island roads and apply salt or sand where needed. The plows tackled streets with a three-tiered system, concentrating efforts first on roads that usually carry higher traffic such as Winslow Way or Miller Road, then moving onto residential roadways.

“Everybody has to make that choice when they are going to drive on the road, and when they do they should use extra caution and make sure their vehicle is fully prepared,” said Public Works Director Lance Newkirk.

“Don’t drive if you don’t have to. If you are coming across the sanding and plow operations, make sure you give a wide birth and let them do their job,” he added.

The City Council’s scheduled meeting Wednesday night had to be cancelled. Since the study session’s agenda was considerably smaller than usual, the agenda items will be absorbed into next week’s meeting, according to City Clerk Roz Lassoff.

Rick Petersen, store director of Town & Country Market, said he was thankful that staff was able to make it into work safely. The market was able to operate normal hours through the storm.

“Definitely people stocked up early (before the storm) and seemed to be preparing for the weather,” Petersen said. “It’s been quiet the last couple days, mostly walk-ins. There haven’t been a lot of cars moving around. We really noticed there wasn’t a lot of ferry traffic on Wednesday, when people come home after work.”

The Bainbridge Island Fire Department was taken by surprise, not by the weather but by the low number of calls they received related to it.

“We haven’t had a large number of weather-related incidents, maybe half a dozen,” said Fire Chief Hank Teran. “Which include accidents due to falls, cars in ditches, sled accidents and downed wires.”

Prior to the storm the fire department put chains on their vehicles, and had extra staff and volunteers come on duty, including an extra paramedic.

“(I) commend everybody for watching the weather and listening to the information that was put out, and not taking any unnecessary chances going out if they didn’t have to,” said Assistant Chief Jared Moravec.

“We haven’t had lots of calls for car accidents. I don’t think a lot of people have been going out – they heeded the warnings.”

Puget Sound’s ferry service went uninterrupted. The biggest challenge was commuting to and from the terminals, but the ferries remained on their normal schedules.

“We are experiencing lighter than normal traffic, of course, but everything has been working really well,” said WSF Communication Director Marta Coursey. “We’ve had some delays in getting salt and gravel to the terminals, but in terms of providing service it’s gone really well.”

While the ferries operated efficiently and on time, riders found that once back on land, roads were just as bad in Seattle as they were on Bainbridge — perhaps worse.

The terminals were still experiencing some icy conditions Thursday afternoon. The City of Seattle sent a fleet of 30 plows and de-icing trucks to clear roadways. But with approximately 750 miles of roads to address, it was recommended that commuters refrain from driving on Seattle roads.

“The (Seattle) downtown streets are very icy,” Coursey said. “So we are still advising that if people don’t have to travel, they stay home.”

Coursey’s office overlooks part of downtown and she got a bird’s eye view of the icy roads.

Gov. Chris Gregoire declared a state of emergency Thursday in response to the snowstorm and icy conditions.

More than 100,000 Puget Sound Energy customers were left powerless elsewhere in the western part of the state.

As of deadline, there have been no power outages on the island.


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