Snow removal has been a hot topic around town, on City Council, on Facebook and Twitter:
New rochelle sucks when it comes to cleaning up streets.
— Che Guevara (@Biggz2190) January 22, 2014
Does New Rochelle not believe in plowing or salting?
— Tara Alexandra ☯ (@VaughanTara) January 22, 2014
All of this was compounded by concerns related to Early Dismissals and Delayed Openings with the City School District of New Rochelle.
Some of the roads aren't even clean how did we not get a snow day
— Claudia Barajas (@_CBarajas) January 22, 2014
Talk of the Sound sat down with DPW Commissioner Alex Tergis (virtually, via email) to discuss the snow removal effort for this year's two major winter storms and to get a better idea of how New Rochelle DPW takes on winter storms. We wondered whether residents concerns are justified or exaggerated. We wanted to know how DPW critiques itself and how they approach storm clean up.
As with many things in New Rochelle, the answer is "it's complicated".
Snow removal in New Rochelle is not at the level that anyone would want least of all the DPW Commissioner.
Tergis has always been forthright in his desire for more equipment, more supplies and more men.
An analysis of snow removal capabilities in area municipalities, compiled by the DPW, supports the Commissioner's claims that New Rochelle is severely handicapped in responding to major storms in every way imaginable. The numbers will be an education for many New Rochelle residents. More on that below.
Tergis began the conversation by noting that due to the storm type, this week's storm was a plowing event: there was a great deal of snow, it piled up quickly, there were very low temperatures before, during and after the snow event.
Salt availability was not an issue for this storm but in December an area-wide shortage of salt and failed deliveries led DPW to ration salt.
With enough salt or without, part of the problem with both storms is that the temperatures after both storms was unusually cold. Tergis explained that salt is only effective during the day when the solar effect and mechanical energy from tires helps melt the snow.
"To expect the roads to be down to blacktop the following morning given the nature of the storm and our constrained manpower, equipment and supplies is just not realistic," said Tergis.
He noted that a common goal for municipalities the size of New Rochelle is that for a large snow storm all roads will be "open" by plowing within 16-24 hours of the storm's end. The storm ended in the early hours Wednesday so that the goal was to open all roads by Thursday evening or overnight, a goal that appears to have been met.
Many residents have a different standard -- they want all roads completely clear within hours of the moment the storm ends or before they want to leave their house whichever comes first.
The City web site clearly states that streets are plowed on a set priority: (1) primary and major artery streets, school streets, and streets serving emergency response facilities and heavy traffic; (2) secondary streets and streets with moderate traffic; (3) last of all is other streets, including cul-de-sacs and dead-end streets.
This effectively means that if you do not live on Route 1, North Avenue, Pinebrook Boulevard or Quaker Ridge Road or next to a school, hospital or heavy traffic area you are going to have to wait a bit and if you live in a neighborhood of small or lightly traveled streets and especially cul-de-sacs and dead ends you are at the bottom of the list.
This would explain why certain neighborhoods (famously, the West End) believe they are ignored during a major snow storm when it is, primarily, a function of the nature of the area -- high density, prevalence of mixed-use lots and many small streets.
In years of covering major storms in New Rochelle -- hurricanes, blizzards and more -- Talk of the Sound has consistently found that residents often believe that their neighborhood is worse than some other and, just as often, that this belief is invariably unfounded. After a very bad storm, if trees are down or power is out or streets are clogged with snow it is typically a citywide event.
For those expecting immediate clean up after a major snow event, there is a note on the web site which clearly states: After a major storm, it may take two to three days for plow crews to clear all the streets (emphasis added).
Few residents bother to read the City web site.
The high standards (some would say unrealistic standards) are influenced by what many residents see in Scarsdale, Mamaroneck and Pelham.
The DPW Commissioner addressed that point.
"Municipalities in the area that have better road conditions have significantly more manpower and equipment per mile to plow as well as better material to use," said Tergis.
New Rochelle's Department of Public Works provided Talk of the Sound with a preliminary draft analysis of municipalities in our area.
The data is eye-opening.
The DPW Analysis shows that New Rochelle maintains 180 miles of roads with a maximum of 18 vehicles (not all vehicles are available at all times). The vehicles have salt spreaders and plows.
New Rochelle covers 10 to 14 miles per spreader and 10 to 14 miles per plot.
By comparison, White Plains maintains 150 miles of roads with 17 salt spreaders and 75 plows; White Plains covers 8.82 miles per spreader and just 4.5 miles per plow.
Cortlandt maintains 170 miles of roads with 21 salt spreaders and 50 plows; Cortlandt covers 8.10 miles per spreader and just 3.4 miles per plow.
Looking at neighboring towns, Scarsdale maintains 90 miles of roads with 12 salt spreaders and 20 plows; Scarsdale covers 7.5 miles per spreader and just 4.5 miles per plow.
Mamaroneck maintains 44 miles of roads with 6 salt spreaders and 19 plows; Mamaroneck covers 7.33 miles per spreader and just 2.32 miles per plow, the lowest (i.e., best) ratio of all municipalities in the study.
Tergis noted that the data does not take into account differences in manpower, equipment or quality of material -- New Rochelle has less of all three.
"The math speaks for itself," said Tergis, in characterizing the analysis.
Compounding all of this is the long-simmering issue of Salt Storage.
Council Member Louis Trangucci has been calling for a Salt Dome since he first got onto City Council more than 5 years ago. Tergis, who has often expressed his desire for a Salt Dome, recently told Council Members that large amounts of New Rochelle's salt went bad due to exposure to the elements, a common occurrence where a large percentage of the City's salt supply is dissolved each year by rain.
"You cannot, year after year, cut jobs and not update equipment and not create stronger revenue streams before it catches up with you," said Council Member Albert Tarantino.
As for complaints that some roads were "impassable" yesterday and today, Tergis said that his snow supervisors found that no more than a handful of problem streets were not properly opened by plowing.
Tergis said residents can help the DPW identify problem roads using information on the DPW web site.
"A list would be helpful to compare to what we saw with what residents experienced," said Tergis.
One area of New Rochelle that has the subject of numerous complaints to Talk of the Sound since the storm ended has been the Larchmont Woods section of New Rochelle.
It is easy to see why area residents were upset. Forest Avenue, the main road through the area, was still snow covered this morning with a wet, sloppy, slush and side roads had an inch of hard-pack snow and ice.
Tergis said that DPW viewed Forest Avenue to be "passable" but did send a truck with a plow and salt spreader to take several passes along Forest Avenue a short while later.
Tergis pointed out that road may have been cleared multiple times during the course of the storm but residents "blow, throw, and plow their snow into the roadways".
In the mixed use zones, he says many gas stations, lots, and other commercial or multi-family housing units are cleared of snow, with no significant piles from their cleanup to be seen on their properties; meanwhile adjacent sections of roadway have heavier concentrations of snow than the rest of the road, a sign that property owners are pushing snow from their property into the roads.
Residents pushing snow into the road this week was exacerbated by high winds and sharply dropping temperatures. Since the storm ended, the temperature has yet to get above 25 degrees Fahrenheit resulting in little or no snow melt.
Tergis said that his department continually sends trucks back through the City after storms to clear up problem areas but pointed out that responding to calls is a slow process and drains City resources.
This is complicated due to New Rochelle's heavy reliance on sanitation trucks to plow roads; when storms overlap with garbage pick up schedules those trucks are pulled from snow removal duties for hours at a time. That was the case this week.
What becomes clear, the more you know, is that comparing New Rochelle DPW to White Plains, Larchmont or Scarsdale is like comparing Napoleon's Grand Army of the Republic to the 100 guys who fought at The Alamo.
The City web site explains a great deal more but (again) few people bother to read it before getting themselves worked up over the issue.
1.When are the snow plows sent out?
The plow operators are dispatched immediately at the beginning of a storm and stay out continually during the storm. They are responsible for clearing over 176 miles of City roads.
2.Which streets are plowed first?
Snow plows first clear primary and major artery streets, school streets, and streets serving emergency response facilities and heavy traffic.
After those roads are clear, secondary streets are cleared and streets with moderate traffic. Lastly, all other streets, including cul-de-sacs and dead-end streets, are plowed. After a major storm, it may take two to three days for plow crews to clear all the streets (emphasis added).
3.What can I do if snow is blocking access to my mail box or driveway?
During snow plowing operations, the snow from the street will end up in front of driveways and mailboxes. The property owner is responsible for access to his/her individual driveway or mailbox.
The only way to avoid extra shoveling is to wait until the Public Works crews have done their final clean-up on the street.
4.What is my responsibility for snow removal?
In accordance with Section 281-4 of the City Code, it is the responsibility of every property owner or occupant to keep the sidewalk and fire hydrants clear from snow, ice and dirt. Snow and ice must be removed from sidewalk abutting their property and fire hydrants before 12 noon of the day after any snowfall which occurs during the night.
In the event of a major snowstorm, the City Manager may declare a snow emergency. All non-essential vehicles are prohibited on City streets during a snow emergency. All snow emergency routes in the City of New Rochelle are posted with red and white signs. Cars must be moved from those streets immediately. All vehicles not moved hamper the snow removal and are subject to being towed. The vehicle owner will be responsible for the towing fee.
In accordance with Section 281-4 of the City Code, it is the responsibility of every owner or occupant of any house or other building and any vacant lot, to keep the sidewalk and fire hydrants clear and clean from snow, ice, and dirt. Snow and ice must be removed from sidewalk abutting their property and fire hydrants before 12:00 noon of the day after any snow fall which occurs during the night. It is a violation of the City Code to place snow into the street or abutting sidewalk.