More Details on Blizzard Plowing/Future Storm Plans
Mayor Jeannette McCarthy plans to revamp the plowing system.
In the wake of the recent February blizzard, city officials on Monday, March 4, quibbled on how to improve the city’s snow-clearing system as new information emerged on the city’s performance during the storm.
Mayor Jeannette McCarthy and Consolidated Public Works Director Michael Chiasson fielded City Councillors’ questions on the controversy for a little more than four hours during a meeting at City Hall.
The meeting came weeks after residents and councilors complained about what they believed was the city’s poor performance in clearing sidewalks and roads after 25 inches of snow descended on the city.
Under the system used during the blizzard, city employees were responsible for clearing snow from the schools and city-owned land, while private contractors cleared city streets.
HIGHLIGHTS ON NEW PLOWING SYSTEM
- McCarthy plans to implement a new system by May in which the city would be divided into four quadrants with one contractor being responsible for each. The contractor would be allowed to subcontract the work, but would ultimately be responsible for the quadrant.
- Each contractor would be required to have a minimum of 1 dump truck, 1 loader and 1 pickup truck, McCarthy said.
- Under the new system, the contractors would be also be responsible for the sidewalks.
- McCarthy has previously said the new system would pay contractors on a per-inch basis, but she never mentioned that during the Monday meeting.
- McCarthy said she did not implement a new system after a 2010 storm because Chiasson was new to his job.
COMMENTS/NEW INFO ON RECENT BLIZZARD
- McCarthy said she is reviewing bills for the blizzard and may decide not to pay some of the contractors. That, she said, could lead to litigation.
- According to Chiasson, the city had enough workers to use its trucks, but not enough to use the sidewalk plows.
- On sidewalks, McCarthy said nine workers were responsible for clearing sidewalks, but that some were on scheduled vacations and others didn’t come in, didn’t want to work the storm.” McCarthy added she does not have the power to force them to work.
- Chiasson said many workers don’t like driving the sidewalk plows because they believe it is “tedious” and is physically taxing.
- Also, McCarthy said some of the “chasers,” supervisors that check the work of plows, did not come to work during the storm.
- City Councillor Paul Brasco criticized Chiasson on the chaser issue saying they “failed miserably” at their jobs. “There is the feeling that some of the chasers are friendly with the contractors who don’t feel the obligation to hold them to a standard that’s up there…There is no way, if the chasers had done their job, that you would have called the plows off the road [at 2 p.m. on Saturday].”
- Chiasson said some of the crews went home at 2 p.m. on Saturday while others stayed until 11 p.m. Chiasson said he should have called them back to work later.
- Chiasson acknowledged the city could have done a better job in pretreating roads with salt. McCarthy said she ordered the city’s main streets salted.
- The CPW director also said he should have ordered salting after the snow had stopped.
- The city uses approximately 150 pieces of snow-clearing equipment, according to Chiasson. He said 129 of them are owned by contractors with the remaining owned by the city.
- “He indicated to me he is not comfortable,” with the number of equipment pieces, said McCarthy
- The current agreement under which contractors plow requires companies have signs on their trucks indicating they are plowing for Waltham, according to Chiasson. However, many trucks don’t have them. City Councillor Robert Logan suggested the city require two signs on each truck as a way to better hold contractors accountable.
- The city tracks plow trucks using GPS systems in each truck, according to Chiasson.
- Four $50 tickets were issued during the storm for pushing snow onto city property, according to Chiasson.
- Waltham Public Schools custodians assisted in clearing snow from sidewalks, McCarthy said.
- When asked if the city had a backup plan for future storms that may be worse than the recent blizzard, Chiasson said, “no.”
- Logan suggested the city have a smartphone app in which citizens could track where the plows are working and provide greater accountability to concerned citizens.
- Chiasson said the city could use social media during the storm, but would not have much useful information to post. However, the city could post the list of streets to be plowed after the storm.
- Chiasson, in response to an inquiry from Logan, said the city could explore purchasing “wackers” that blow snow from sidewalks.
- Chiasson said there are plans to buy additional equipment, through the city’s capital improvement plan. However, the plan has not yet been funded, according to City Councillor Tom Stanley.
- “It is an area we need to plan on making more investment in the future,” said Logan on the CPW’s resources for clearing snow.
- McCarthy said she did not disagree with Logan but said she would need to find tasks for any new workers to do perform when they are not clearing snow.
- “We don’t have enough personnel,” Stanley said, saying the city needs more CPW workers and private contractors. “We should have been prepared for this [storm].”
- Brasco suggested the city distribute notices to businesses reminding them to keep their sidewalks clear the day before the storm instead of the day after.
- Doucette expressed concerns over communications between city officials during the storm. In response, McCarthy criticized Doucette for calling in requests for certain streets to be plowed. She said doing so undercuts the CPW list formulated by city officials that is focused on maximizing public safety.
- “I can’t have them taking multiple directions. Yes, it is political [for councilors] to call in plowing requests,” McCarthy said.
- In response, Doucette said that was not “political” and residents were looking for adequate storm cleanup.
- Brasco criticized McCarthy for the “inefficiency” he saw in the cost to clear the roads. “It’s embarrassing... when you say that the city of Newton, it cost them $1.5 million for that storm, they have 308.1 road miles… and we spent $1.2 million. It’s embarrassing. That’s inefficiency. That’s ineffective. Somebody has to be held accountable,” Brasco said adding Waltham had has 163.1 road miles.
- Chiasson guessed the storm had cost around $500,000, but that he did not yet have a final figure.