A crew of more than 30 people worked to keep the pavement clear at Westover Air Base in Chicopee on Thursday.
Wind-driven snow made the effort more difficult as visibility came close to zero at times. Crews used plows, massive rotary brushes and huge snow blowers to keep the runway clear for the Air Force C-5 aircraft.
Phoenix Management Inc. has the contract to keep the 11,000 foot long, 300 foot wide runway clear. Their objective is to keep the center of the runway down to bare pavement.
Because of the massive size, the runway was an alternate landing area for the space shuttle program. It was never used for that purpose.
Supervisor of Roads and Grounds Art Herring said his crews are responsible for clearing the equivalent of a small city. Their day began at 5 a.m. Thursday and would continue until 11 p.m. Thursday night when the tower closed for the night. They were planning on heading back out at 4 a.m. Friday so the runway is ready for normal operations at 7 a.m.
Phoenix Management has won awards for the past three years for their efforts clearing snow from the air reserve base. Herring credited the hard work and dedication of the crew for their success. He said the runway has only closed once in several years and that was because of the blizzard in February of 2013. The runway was closed for 12 hours.
Along with the 1.6 million square yards of pavement, the crew is also responsible for clearing 24 miles of roads on the base. According to Danny Van Dalsen, PMI Maintenance Manager, it costs about $1 million a year for snow-clearing operations.
Herring said the snow is not allowed to be piled up, it all has to be trucked off the runway. He said once the snow stops, it has to be put into rows where huge snow blowers transfer snow to tri-axle dump trucks. He said the snow was trucked to a field where it was dumped then blown into a field with the snow blowers. He estimated crews would be finishing up some time Monday or Tuesday.
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