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Roads leave residents miffed

February 11, 2013

Photo/Ernest A. Brown

PAWTUCKET — While the wintery landscape looked like pretty as a postcard, dealing with the heavy white stuff was anything but a walk in the park for both the city's residents and its municipal workers.
Luckily, there were no serious accidents, house fires or storm-related deaths over the weekend in Pawtucket's Blizzard of 2013, according to Pawtucket Police. The city's Fire Department was kept busy however, responding to two car fires and some 300 rescue runs, according to Fire Chief William Sisson. He said the department was offered two snowmobiles and used them, accompanied by payloaders, to reach people in neighborhoods where the roads were impassible.
There were considerable power outages, with some 10,000 city residents left in the dark in the wake of the storm on Saturday. By Saturday afternoon, National Grid had restored electricity to all but around 70 houses, and by Monday morning, that number had been cut to four.
The citywide parking ban was lifted as of 8 a.m. Monday. School was cancelled Monday out of concern for the dangerous walking conditions and to give maintenance workers the chance to clear school parking lots. All public schools will remain closed today so inspectors can assess the condition of the roofs under the weight of the heavy snow and rain.
Pawtucket Mayor Donald Grebien and DPW Director Lance Hill said work crews had been going “around the clock” since before the start of Friday's intense storm and had nothing but praise for those involved in the clean-up effort. Both men said the heaviness of the snow had caused a large number of vehicle breakdowns, both in city plowing equipment and contractors' trucks. Once the state highways were cleared, the state sent heavy duty equipment to Pawtucket to help.
Clean-up efforts went on throughout Monday and beyond with payloaders and other large trucks used to widen streets and whittle down the large snow piles at many intersections.
Grebien asked that city residents cooperate in clearing the sidewalks in front of their houses (which is required by city ordinance). He added that the city will delay enforcement of the ordinance at this time. Also, Sisson requested the public's help in shoveling out neighborhood fire hydrants. Trash and recycling pick-up will resume Tuesday on a one-day delay basis.
While the majority of the city's roads were at least passable by Monday morning, numerous residents grumbled about the condition of some of the main roads, such as Roosevelt Avenue, Prospect Street, Broadway and Exchange Street, which were still filled with deep, snowy ruts and slush. Others noted the number of large snowbanks causing visibility problems at intersections.
Several residents expressed frustration in e-mails and phone calls to The Times about why plows appeared to go repeatedly down some city streets while others remained untouched. One such e-mail described seeing “plow after plow going down Mendon Avenue, sometimes two or three in tandem, Saturday at 2:30 a.m. while nearby Berndt Street was still snow filled.”
The fact that you could take a walk, or drive, through Slater Park also rankled some, who questioned why park roads were plowed Saturday morning when many surrounding streets in Darlington remained impassable until Sunday evening.
According to several sources, a photo of Pawtucket firefighters on a snowmobile with the suggestion that it was a joyride was sent out to a widespread audience via the social networking site Twitter. However, a reader also sent photos of the snowmobile-riding fire personnel to The Times, explaining that he wanted to show how they had gotten around during the blizzard.
Sisson and Grebien said arrangements had been made to borrow the snowmobiles in advance of Friday's storm. Grebien added that his director of administration had made sure that the city's insurance covered any liability for anyone who used the vehicles. Sisson added that he was angered by the Twitter photo, noting “The guys had been working so hard during this storm.”
On Monday, city Public Works Director Lance Hill said he realized there were frustrations about the plowing and condition of the roads, but said both the city workers and private contractors had gone above and beyond in their efforts. He said that many had put in 50- and 60-hour shifts, catching sleep on cots that had been set up by the Red Cross at the Emergency Management Center.
Hill said plowing is done according to a 26-route prioritization system that was in place long before he arrived. The main roads are plowed first, next the hills, and then any additional areas. He said that in this storm, there were a large number of power outages, so the plowing was done on streets that National Grid had to reach. He also said that some of the plow drivers were assigned to work as a team due to the weight and accumulation of snow.
The slowdown occurred due to equipment breakdowns, Hill said, noting that at the height of the storm, DPW lost about 20 percent of its fleet and about half of the private contractors. Calls were put out to the state and neighboring communities for more heavy equipment, and relief finally came later on Saturday night when the state loaned some of its equipment, he said.
Grebien also said Monday that he knows there is criticism about the road conditions, but echoed Hill's remarks that municipal workers and contractors had done their level best in what proved to be a difficult snowstorm. “I didn't hold back on resources,” he said, noting that he had even contacted the Rhode Island National Guard for assistance. “I realize people's frustration, but they have to be realistic. We had 180 miles of road to plow.”
Grebien added that he spent about six hours out with the plow crews himself while his wife, Laureen, fielded phone calls from his home and later helped out at the Emergency Management Center. He also said that while there was criticism, there was also a lot of support from constituents who cheered some of the plow drivers when they arrived.
The mayor said the city has 15 plow trucks and one payloader, with access to a second payloader from a vendor. He noted that in this type of heavy snow, he could have used 26 payloaders—one for each plow route--but this would be impractical given the cost and the fact that a storm of this magnitude only happens about once every 30 years.
As to the cost of the Blizzard of 2013, Grebien estimated it to be about $100,000, although he noted that it was too early yet to make a detailed tally. He said that since about $400,000 had been budgeted for snow removal, “we're in pretty good shape so far.” Yet, he noted that it won't be as good as last year, when the milder winter allowed for a surplus in this budgeted line item that was returned to the general fund.


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