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Snow plow driver shortage could affect Whatcom County’s snow removal response this winter

City of Ferndale snowplow at Washington Street and Vista Drive (February 6, 2017). Photo: Whatcom News

WHATCOM COUNTY, Wash. — Whatcom County Public Works (WCPW) department officials announced they are “dealing with a significant shortage of employees who are licensed, qualified and experienced operating snow plows.” As a result, residents are advised to plan for less snow plowing than in prior years due to fewer plows and other equipment being on the roads during snow events.

Normally the department would have 52 trained CDL drivers for emergency work – including snow plow operations. Right now there are only 27 employees with sufficient training and licenses.Whatcom County Public Works (October 27, 2021)

Heavy equipment drivers require a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) and training before being allowed to operate on public roadways according to the announcement.

Over the past 18 months, we hired more than a dozen new employees, 9 of whom are currently going through the CDL training process. We are also working to fill 8 vacancies right now. In a non-pandemic year, It takes an average of 6-12 months for someone to get a CDL license. Even after someone gets a CDL, we don’t just put them in a snow plow on a public road without any practice. We make sure new drivers have both the right license and experience level before operating on public roadways.

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Whatcom County Public Works (October 27, 2021)

WCPW officials noted, while other state and municipal agencies are dealing with employee shortages impacted by reassignments, layoffs and firings due to COVID-19 vaccination mandates, that is not a factor in this situation because the County does not have such a mandate.

This issue is caused by a combination of experienced workers retiring, the booming construction economy placing a premium on equipment operator jobs, and the Covid-19 pandemic limiting CDL training opportunities. Whatcom County Public Works (October 27, 2021)

WCPW is responsible for snow and ice management on 960 miles of roads.

The following are provided as advice for how to prepare.

  • Have sufficient staples like groceries and medication to stay at home for multiple days in a row
  • Stay home if you can during and immediately after a winter storm
  • If you must travel, be prepared to drive on roads that have not been plowed, or may not have been plowed recently
    • Have tire chains and know how to use them.
    • Get a vehicle winter maintenance checkup
    • Carry a basic winter survival kit in your vehicle

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