The Snow Dragon rarely rests.
On Saturday, Denver Public Works employees were feeding the snow melter and monitoring its temperature in a Coors Field parking lot.
Nearly two months after the December blizzards, officials from public works and Denver International Airport are firing up industrial melters to reduce the remaining mountains of ice and snow and test the equipment before deciding whether to buy it.
DIA has leased a monster machine that can melt 600 tons of snow an hour and costs $5,970 an hour to operate.
The airport spent $10,000 to get the machine, and DIA has a standing contract to spend up to $160,000 at the hourly rate to use the equipment, said airport spokesman Steve Snyder.
DIA also will test smaller melters from two other companies, at lease rates of $106,000 and $98,000 for three months per machine.
The airport closed for 45 hours during and after the Dec. 20-21 blizzard. Even after planes started flying again, it took five days to haul away mounds of snow piled up to 10 feet high near the concourses.
Many other Snowbelt airports use melters, but until its recent tests, DIA was not among them. A consultant has recommended that the airport acquire melters.
DIA is leasing three machines from different companies "to see what technology is available in this field" for possible purchases, Snyder said.
At a rental rate of $30,000 a month, Denver's Public Works Department leased the Snow Dragon from a local heavy-equipment company. It costs an additional $200 an hour to operate the diesel-powered machine.
The Dragon melts 75 cubic yards, or about 56 tons, of snow an hour, according to calculations by city officials.
On Saturday, as the sun was doing its own thing on the Coors Field parking lot snow piles, power-shovel operator Jason Cassel was dumping a load into the Dragon every couple of minutes.
Within seconds after a drop, water cascaded from the bottom of the unit and flowed down the parking lot gutter into a storm drain.
This week, Public Works expects to get a second melter from another company, a machine with a melting capacity of 100 tons an hour - about double that of the Dragon - at a lease rate of $1,500 a day. It also will cost about $200 an hour to operate, said department spokeswoman Ann Williams.
Denver is considering including melting equipment in its snow-removal plan, said Public Works operations manager Dan Roberts.
"These are half-million-dollar machines," he said, "and they have to live up to what they say to make them cost-effective over hauling."
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