Over the coming months and the next year, Bethel will be facing some tough choices on how to cut down on the weight of its water and sewer trucks. Last month, KYUK rode along on a typical day, pre-weight restrictions, with one of the city's water delivery drivers.
A little after 10 a.m. on a Friday, Ashley Jerry’s water truck idles behind cars and delivery trucks strung along Chief Eddie Hoffman highway, just across from the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation's construction site.
“This is the second or third time this happened this morning,” said Jerry.
On July 20, after a state Department of Transportation inspection, the city was told that it would have to cut back on the amount of weight in its water and sewer trucks, or drivers would start to be ticketed.
The inspection was the result of increased truck traffic from the hospital construction expansion, and an Alaska Dispatch News article published last month that brought the poor road conditions on the state highway to the attention of state authorities. After weighing the sewer and water trucks, they said that the heavy loads being carried are making the road worse.
City Manager Pete Williams attempted to get the city a temporary exemption, but Transportation Department spokesperson Shannon McCarthy told KYUK last week that it would not be granted.
Starting today, August 1, drivers like Jerry will be required to start their rounds with tanks only half to three-quarters full. That means more trips back and forth to water pump stations, and more road time for the city’s roughly 16 water and sewer drivers.
“For now, we’re keeping up on service delivery and we’ll do everything possible to keep on schedule,” said Williams.
That’s Pete Williams, Bethel’s City Manager. Last week, the Transportation department told the city that the next time they come out to inspect, they plan to issue tickets. If ticketed, drivers would have to pay the fine. Williams said that he thinks DOT could’ve tried to resolve the situation in a different way.
“Right now, the way it looks if we were to comply with this law, we would have to hire some new drivers and buy some new trucks,” said Williams.
Drivers like Jerry start their day at 7 a.m., and work until 4:30 p.m. At just 20 years old, Jerry’s been a driver for the city for a little over a year. She said that she loves her job, being outside all day, even in the winter. It’s in the winter, though, that deliveries tend to fall behind.
“People call in or trucks break down; we get short staffed,” said Jerry.
Jerry said that last winter she had to work two weeks straight, pulling double shifts to make sure they were caught up on deliveries.
“And even then, I would have to leave a couple houses for the next day,” said Jerry.
Jerry makes 30 to 50 deliveries a day. Today she’s already made several trips to the water pump station and is scheduled to make over 30 deliveries in the Blackberry subdivision. The City Manager said that new requirements will make things tougher.
One initiative that Williams set in motion last month was the installation of truck tracking equipment in an attempt to gather data for better route schedules.
Ashley Jerry likes the idea of having better schedules.
“There are days where I could do maybe three loads and be done really early,” said Jerry. “Then other days, I would stay behind and do seven to eight loads. So, the routes are kind of uneven.”
To underscore her point, a half-hour later we go to the water pump station to refill and Jerry sees a co-worker who is already done with the short delivery list he got that day. The two work out a deal wherein he takes five of her deliveries.
Williams said that once they get past their August 1 monthly deliveries they’ll have a better idea of how to handle the more frequent trips and re-fillings required to meet state requirements.
Williams said that the weight limits could require as many as six more certified drivers, costing the city, with benefits, about $100,000 each. The city would also need three new trucks, costing around $300,000 each, which would not likely be delivered until well into next year.