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Town crews were road warriors of storm

By Julianne Hanckel

Publication: The Day

Published February 12. 2013 4:00AM   Updated February 12. 2013 7:06PM
Workers stressed by long hours, low visibility, equipment breakdowns

For many who feared they would never come, the sight of a snow plow making its way through their neighborhood this weekend meant that just maybe, an escape to the outside world was possible.

Some took action into their own hands. In Preston and Stonington, the first selectmen drove a payloader and plow during the storm to help with snow removal. In New London, Mayor Daryl Justin Finizo helped residents shovel out Coit Street.

Parking bans were still in effect Monday and streets throughout the region remain unplowed. For local public works employees, the blizzard meant extremely long work hours, staggered shifts, broken equipment, low visibility and sometimes, confrontations with frustrated residents.

Montville, Salem

During the height of the storm Friday evening, crews in Montville - which received 3 feet of snow - were forced to stop but were back on the road Saturday morning and worked until 10 p.m. They were out again Sunday morning until the evening.

"They are not complaining, not one of them are complaining a single bit," Mayor Ronald McDaniel said Monday. "I'm not sure if they will feel the same in a couple of days."

In Salem, First Selectman Kevin Lyden said "all hands were on deck."

The small town has six public works employees and called in an additional person. Crews there were forced to stop shortly after midnight on Saturday, but started again at 4 a.m. At that point one plow truck followed another to ensure that roads not only were cleared quicker but drivers could see better in the dark.

"I can't say enough how dedicated they are," he said. "They take it on and just plowed through it."

Stonington, Waterford, Preston

Haberek said Highway Department workers in Stonington had just eight hours of rest in a 48-hour period between Friday night and Sunday night at about 8, when they were sent home after salting the roads. They returned at 7 a.m. Monday.

The weather Monday didn't do much to help the workers' cause as it melted down the enormous piles of snow that were lurking on street corners, turning it into messy slush. Because storm drains were covered by piles of snow, the melted water had no where to go and formed pools of water on the street.

"If it freezes, its going to be a skating pond in some places," Waterford First Selectman Daniel Steward said.

Public Works Director Kristin Zawacki said the Monday's early morning rain was freezing on contact, making cleanup that much tougher.

"We're working on cleaning up the town but this weather will make it harder," she said. "The (guys) are doing alright, but they're tired. You know, tensions get short, but our guys are doing great, they're doing a good job."

Preston First Selectman Robert Congdon said for many storms, road crews receive four-hour breaks from plowing. But the blizzard's intensity prevented that this weekend, with snow coming down at times 2 or more inches per hour.

"After four hours, there would have been another 8 inches on the roads," Congdon said.

Groton, Ledyard

Town of Groton Public Works crews were at work by 7 a.m. Friday and worked 36 hours straight before breaking Saturday night.

Public Works Director Gary Schneider said there are some cots at the highway garage where some took naps in their clothes. By Saturday night, Schneider said many workers were able to go home and attend to their own families and get a night's sleep in their own bed.

The only lingering concern, he said, is the dwindling amount of salt. More salt has been ordered from a New Haven distributor but is not yet available.

The 200 remaining tons is enough to cover another "event," Schneider said. That event could include salting once the rain falling on Monday freezes. There is a backup supply of sand should the salt run out he said, but the sand will help with traction, not with ice removal.

In Ledyard, all 12 public works crew members were out Monday plowing snow and trying to get to the less traveled streets. About 142 miles of road have to be covered, so each crewmember is responsible for about 12 miles of plowing.

New London, Norwich

The 64 miles of road in New London were tackled by 40 of the 49 public works employees working during the day on Monday, 10 large plows, three smaller plows, two sidewalk machines and two private contractors.

Fifty-eight Norwich Public Works Department employees drove nearly 40 trucks and other snow removal equipment throughout the storm, Public Works Director Barry Ellison said.

All but five workers were on duty from 7 a.m. Friday through 5 p.m. Saturday, a 34-hour shift. The remaining five workers were on the job for 39 hours straight, Ellison said. They returned to work for full shifts Sunday, clearing downtown snow and continuing to plow streets.

"The nighttime hours are the toughest," Ellison said. "They're used to this. They've done it their whole careers."

East Lyme, Old Lyme

In East Lyme, town departments - including personnel from the public works, public safety, water and sewer, and parks and recreation - contributed to snow removal and safety efforts.

"They've been working nonstop through the storm." said First Selectman Paul Formica. "They have performed superbly."

Town crews worked 16-hour shifts. Firefighters and police officers, as well as the National Guard, drove residents to the regional shelter at the East Lyme Middle School.

Town officials hired contractors with equipment, and the National Guard provided three to five pieces of heavy equipment, for a total of about 10 additional machines, to help clear roads, he said.

In Old Lyme Monday, town crews worked on clearing drains and roads, including a list of about a dozen roads residents reported as needing significant clearance. Town officials also called in subcontractors with backhoes to help clear the snow during the storm, according to First Selectwoman Bonnie Reemsnyder.

"We've got crews dispatched as efficiently as we can," she said.

Officials also sent town police to evaluate buildings with flat roofs at risk of potentially collapsing from the heavy weight of the snow and precipitation.

j.hanckel@theday.com

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