Destin’s street sweeper works year-round

DESTIN — While Santa Claus traditionally represents the final aspect of a Christmas parade, the jolly old elf in Destin’s parade will be followed by the city’s slow-moving, road-candy-eating street sweeper.


The city’s parade, which has more than 90 entries, starts at 10 a.m. Saturday. It will move along the 2-mile span of U.S. Highway 98 between Main Street and Stahlman Avenue while being tailed by the almost 12-ton sweeper driven by city Public Services Maintenance Technician Brandon Moore.


"It goes zero to 60 in about four minutes," Moore joked Wednesday about the TYMCO sweeper.


"It’s not built for speed," said Public Services Director Michael Burgess, who noted its average operating speed is 1 to 2 mph. "It’s low and slow because you want to make sure you get the vast majority of material in one pass."


While not as flashy as a fire engine or police car, the street sweeper makes a big positive difference for the community: Besides helping Destin look more aesthetically pleasing, the cleaner streets it leaves behind mean less pollution runoff that drains to local waterways.


The sweeper is put to work about two to four days per week, both during the daytime and at night. It cleans all of Destin’s collector roads such as Main Street, Commons Drive and Airport Road at least once per quarter and each of its smaller streets at least once per year, Burgess said.


While the city cleans a portion of U.S. 98 after the Christmas parade, the state is responsible for cleaning that state-owned road for the bulk of the year.


In total, the street sweeper annually collects around 100 cubic yards of rubbish, equal to five large dump truck loads, from Destin’s 79 miles of roadway.


"That’s a lot of dirt coming off this town," said Public Services Field Crew Supervisor Dennis Dykes.


In 2014, Destin officials purchased the almost-new sweeper for about $125,000 to help follow state guidelines for stormwater operations.


"Street sweeping is kind of a staple of good housekeeping" on the municipal level, Burgess said.


On either side of Destin’s sweeper is a brush made with steel, skewer-like rods. They help remove leaves, sand, cigarettes and other debris, some of which is stained by contaminants, and help preserve road surfaces and pavement markings.


The vehicle’s Isuzu diesel motor runs the truck body and its Kubota tractor motor powers its vacuum system.


"It’s a regenerative air system," Burgess said. "What that means is, in addition to just vacuuming the pavement, the two brushes rotate and they bring material in from the curbs to the middle of the truck, where the vacuum head can pick it up.


"In addition, the regenerative air part blasts the pavement with high-pressure air. That air is able to dislodge sediment from the nooks and crannies within the pavement itself."


The sweeper uses water for dust control and mixes water with soot and dirt to prevent erosion to its hopper.


Burgess said without the water, the sweeper would resemble the Peanuts’ character Pig-Pen, who is constantly surrounded by a dust cloud.


The sweeper’s primary engine had to be replaced and other aspects of the machine had to be replaced/repaired earlier this year, at a cost of less than $30,000.


A city worker had mistakenly filled the vehicle with unleaded gas instead of diesel fuel, which damaged the motor to the extent it had to be replaced, according to city information.


"In addition to the damaged motor, as the vehicle was being towed back to the shop, an unknown motorist completed an unexpected u-turn in front of the safety vehicles causing them to have to avoid a collision by exiting the roadway, which resulted in the tow strap breaking and the street sweeper suffering additional damage to its undercarriage and vacuum system," Burgess wrote in a city memo earlier this year.


The sweeper’s annual routine maintenance cost totals around $2,000 to $3,000.


Following the Christmas parade, much of the debris that the sweeper will collect is expected to be mints and other hard candies.


"Kids don’t tend to like those," said Burgess, who would like parade participants to hand candy to spectators rather than throwing it so there is less left over to litter the street.


Frisbees and a circular saw blade are among some of the unusual items that have been snatched up by the sweeper.


The various kinds of debris it removes are deposited into a "special handling" Dumpster at the public services maintenance facility on West Commons Drive before being brought to a landfill.


Burgess noted that his former employer, the city of Columbus, Georgia, has about five or six street sweepers. Locally, the city of Fort Walton Beach has a sweeper, as does Destin Executive Airport.


While the machines are slow, Burgess said he hopes motorists will be patient with Destin’s sweeper "because these fellas are out here working, trying to keep Destin beautiful."


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