Another terrific Snow Conference

"APWA hit a home run with this one"

Michael Long, former APWA Project Manager, Adult Education
R. Kevin Clark, Editor, APWA Reporter

Before snow flies, rain freezes, or ice strikes, public works professionals prepare to make their streets as safe as possible for their citizens. This is a serious responsibility which means early mornings, working weekends, working 12-18 hours a day, and being on call at any given moment. With the recent budget cuts that have hit almost every public works department, it also means doing more and servicing more streets with less staff and resources.

That is why every spring, over 1,000 winter maintenance professionals gather together at the North American Snow Conference to share their experiences, learn from one another, and see what new tools are available to add to their arsenal.

This year's conference took place April 25-28 in beautiful Lexington, Kentucky, and was hosted by the Bluegrass Branch of the APWA Kentucky Chapter. Superior education, a packed exhibit floor, gracious hosts, a fabulous closing celebration, beautiful spring weather, excellent technical tours and demonstrations, and gorgeous countryside made for one of the best Snow Conferences to date.

"This year's conference was another tremendous learning opportunity for everyone," said Bret Hodne, Superintendent of Public Works, City of West Des Moines, Iowa, and General Session "Talk Show" facilitator. "The educational sessions, the exhibits, and the hands-on anti-icing training provided attendees with an excellent opportunity to take valuable information back to their agencies."

In keeping with Kentucky racing tradition, the conference opened with a "call to the post" played by Keeneland's own Bucky Sallee in full regalia followed by Bill Janow, Chair, and Leo McMillen, Co-Chair, of the Bluegrass Branch Snow Conference Host Committee who welcomed everyone to Lexington.

APWA President Dwayne Kalynchuk provided welcoming remarks at the Opening General Session.

Other dignitaries giving opening remarks included APWA President Dwayne Kalynchuk, Lexington Mayor Teresa Ann Isaac, and Richard Murgatroyd, Deputy Secretary of the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet. Mayor Isaac explained how every year she goes out to the operations yard and "pets" the salt to make sure it's there because in 1995, Lexington was hit by a hard winter and their salt was stranded on a barge in the middle of a frozen river.

Opening General Session speaker Dr. Carl Hurley kept everyone on the edge of their seats with his humorous perspective on life. Drawing from his roots in the tradition of such other American humorists as Andy Griffith and Garrison Keillor, Hurley shared the "fables" he grew up with in his family of "talkers" where he spent endless hours listening to aunts, uncles and cousins swapping yarns and stories that were richly embellished after years of telling. "Carl Hurley was excellent," said Jerry Pickett, Streets Superintendent, City of Greeley, Colorado, and General Session "Talk Show" panelist. "He talked about injecting humor into your life and how important it is. He had a message and he was also very funny. And with his upbringing from the hills of Kentucky, he was kind of fitting for the conference, too."

As always, there was plenty of activity on the exhibit floor.

Following the Opening General Session, there were two rounds of packed educational sessions. The exhibit floor opened at 5:00 p.m. and featured 115 companies showcasing the very latest products and technologies necessary in snow and ice management and winter operations. "Virtually all aspects of the winter maintenance field were well represented on the floor," said Hodne. "When people come to these conferences, they like the educational sessions but they also like the opportunity to see what's out there for new technology, equipment and services. And with the large number of vendors we had here, people had a very good opportunity to do that."

Each year the General Session presented in the "Talk Show" format continues to be a hit with attendees. This year's session, "The Carrot or the Stick: The Complexities of Dealing with the Public," was a lively forum between the panelists and audience discussing how they all are handling issues such as sidewalk clearing, emergency route towing and ticketing, and damaged mailboxes. "The Talk Show General Session once again was very successful," said Pickett. "It's just a very good learning atmosphere where people in the audience were not only asking questions, but were stepping up to the plate and providing some answers along with the panel members. So that networking opportunity, everyone being able to participate and at least sit in and listen there, is a very good training format."

The hottest topic again this year was anti-icing, ranging from discussions on how to use salt brine to results from experimental testing projects. Also popular were discussions on Roadway Weather Information Systems (RWIS), fleet management, GPS and AVL projects, and other new technologies and techniques such as Driver Assistive Systems for Snowplow Trucks and a Maintenance Decision Support System being developed to aid managers in deciding how to tackle specific conditions.

For the Closing General Session, Bill Janow and Bob Freudenthal, APWA Director of Region III, shared closing remarks, and the Kansas City Metro Chapter charged up attendees for next year's conference in Kansas City. Tim Gard, the Keynote Speaker for the session, was truly a hit with the audience with his hilarious perspective on some of the frustrating aspects of life and how we can look at them and laugh. He has no trouble finding his bag at baggage claim because his bag is the only one with rubber chicken feet sticking out. "He pretty much had people rolling in the aisles," said Pickett. "I had the opportunity to see him once before in Grand Junction. He always tries to gear his message around whatever the conference is about, so he tried to gear it around snowplow drivers and winter maintenance issues. It was a great way to end the educational part of the conference on Tuesday. He just left everybody with a good feeling, and people found him very funny and enjoyed his message as well."

The beautiful Kentucky Horse Park, site of "Old Kentucky Night"

The closing Tuesday night event, "Old Kentucky Night at the Kentucky Horse Park," was a big hit with all the attendees. Attendees were greeted at the entrance by servers in jockey uniforms and welcomed with a mint julep. Before eating, everyone had a chance to walk around the park and pet the horses, look at the various sculptures, barns and pastures, as well as tour the Horse Museum. While eating barbeque, fried chicken, corn bread and pecan pie, attendees were treated to traditional bluegrass-style music by Billie Rene‚ and Cumberland Gap. "The nice part about 'Old Kentucky Night' was that it gave the attendees the opportunity to get out and see a little bit of the local ambience of the Kentucky area," Hodne said. "It was an educational experience because you were able to learn about the history of horse racing and some of the great horses."

On Wednesday morning, there were two technical tours. One tour visited the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government's award-winning Traffic Management Center where all the area's traffic signaling is managed and controlled. With camera displays of critical intersections and roadways and real-time traffic signal control, the system provides the ability to manage and adjust traffic flows during major sporting events, concerts, other special events and traffic accidents.

  Participants at the anti-icing equipment demonstration

At the second tour, over 200 people kicked tires at the City of Lexington's equipment yard and viewed real hands-on anti-icing demonstrations. People rotated from three different set-ups: One was a presentation led by Wilfrid Nixon on chemical selection and usage; another was a presentation by Bret Hodne on available anti-icing equipment and how to start up an anti-icing program; and the main demonstration was of anti-icing equipment provided by Lexington's Public Works Department as well as the Ohio Department of Transportation. "This training session put the icing on the cake to make it such a great overall conference," Hodne said. "Looking at the agency's equipment, looking at the Ohio DOT's equipment, actually seeing that equipment work, and having a chance to visit with those people at a public works facility, it brought everything full circle and really made the conference a tremendous thing for a lot of people. As one of the members stated to me, APWA hit a home run with this one."

In short, this was an excellent conference as many attendees raved about the venue, the educational sessions, the general session speakers, the tour and the exhibit floor. "I think overall, the quality of the North American Snow Conference continues to get better every year," Hodne said. "The people in Lexington, the public works staff, let everyone know that they know what snow and ice is all about and that they are prepared to deal with it. And I think it's hats off to the staff at APWA and the City of Lexington for putting on another super North American Snow Conference."

A big "thank you" goes to all the volunteers of the APWA Kentucky Chapter Bluegrass Branch for all of their hard work before and during the conference to make it a truly memorable and unique experience for everyone.

See you next year at the 2005 North American Snow Conference on April 17-20 in Kansas City, Missouri.