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Communities Dig Out

Snow and ice create challenges for Loudoun's growing communities.

Thursday afternoon there was little activity on South Riding streets. Cars remained covered in snow, windshield wipers sticking out of the snow. Driveways remained unshoveled and side roads remained unplowed. The ice-covered snow made creating snow angels and building snowmen difficult and few children peppered the community's hillsides.

By Friday, Feb. 16, residents of Ashburn were fairing better, roads were clearer, but many neighborhoods remained unplowed, relying on sand, salt and sun to remove the snow and ice. Snow that had been cleared was piled high enough to reach some street signs. While the parking lots of area parks remained snow-covered and blocked in, children found their way on foot, trying to make the most of the snow days they had enjoyed since Tuesday afternoon.

THE WINTRY MIX that moved across Northern Virginia and Maryland last week caused many problems for Loudoun residents, including closed schools, blocked roads and slippery walking conditions. One of the biggest issues faced by the county was ensuring that the roads of its neighborhoods were properly cleared so that residents could go about their lives.

In growing communities, such as South Riding, responsibility of clearing the roads falls to several different entities. VDOT is responsible for the main thoroughfares and any roads that the county has turned over to the state's secondary road system. The South Riding proprietary is responsible for all private lanes and alleyways that have been paved and the developer is responsible for clearing all secondary roads that have not been accepted by VDOT, any private streets that have no been paved and accepted by the proprietary and any streets that are actively under construction.

"It is a little confusing with three different entities responsible for the plowing," Lisa Pitarque, communications director for South Riding, said. "We've gotten a lot of calls from residents."

IN ORDER TO best serve the residents of South Riding, Richard Dowswell, general manager of the community, organized a meeting with the plow companies under contract to the community and staff members.

"We met prior to the storm so the three entities could have our game plan in place," Dowswell said. "A normal snow storm our in-house staff could handle, but we knew it was going to a wintry mix to remember."

Dowswell and the contractors divided South Riding up into three areas, to best deal with the storm that was coming.

"We were hopeful that VDOT would be able to stay ahead of the storm, so they could get to the secondary roads."

WHEN THE STORM began Tuesday afternoon, VDOT had already been mobilized since Monday evening, Joan Morris, VDOT spokesperson for Northern Virginia, said. While it is VDOT's policy not to plow secondary roads when there is less than two inches of precipitation, Morris said the organization was planning ahead for the storm to come.

"This has been a very long storm for us," she said.

Residents living on publicly maintained streets still found themselves unplowed by the end of the week, however, because of the ice that fell on top of the snow.

"Right now everything has turned to ice," Morris said. "We can't plow when it is ice. We have been doing a lot of sanding and salting to try and do what we can."

Many VDOT plows and trucks have had to go back to neighborhoods and retreat streets with sand and salt after bitterly cold temperatures caused the precipitation to refreeze overnight.

"We're trying to focus our sanding on hills, curves and shady spots," Morris said. "Anything that is a trouble spot for people."

In Loudoun, Morris said, VDOT was focusing on the neighborhoods of Lowes Island, Cascades, Broadlands and Suganland Run, where conditions have been very bad.

FOR RESIDENTS OF South Riding, where VDOT was not able to plow, however, life still needed to continue. Dowswell and the contracted plowers in the community, with more than 10 plows, did there best to keep up with the demand of the storm.

"The crews started at 2 p.m. Tuesday and worked through the night," Dowswell said. "We had about a six hour window to get some of the snow and ice combination off the roads."

Dowswell said the most difficult thing is figuring out who is responsible for which roads when residents call with concerns and questions.

"If you can't reach VDOT, then who do I call?" Dowswell said residents often asked.

While he was plowing, he and the other plowers would stop and help residents as they tried to dig out their driveways and cars. When he was plowing at 5:30 a.m., Dowswell stopped to help a woman dig out her car. With all of the ice they couldn't do much, but they were able to get her out of her parking spot.

"You do whatever you can with your responsibilities and then you have to expand your responsibilities and do what you can to help people," he said.

When he and the other contractors drove along VDOT roads, they kept their blades down, trying to clear what they could for residents.

"We have smaller blades, but we were at least able to make them passable," Dowswell said. "We knew we've got to do everything we can for our residents."

Dowswell called the process of digging out a team effort, one that they will continue as long as is needed.

"I am glad we did engage the private sector beforehand because that was a key thing," he said. "But there is still going to be a lot of cleaning up to do."