Cleanup expected to break Md. budgets Side streets still blocked

Glendening to ask U.S. aid BLIZZARD OF 1996

January 09, 1996|By Kate Shatzkin | Kate Shatzkin,SUN STAFF Sun staff writers Kris Antonelli, Larry Carson, James M. Coram, Donna Engle, Amy Miller and Sherrie Ruhl contributed to this article.

The Big Dig-Out of 1996 began in earnest yesterday across Central Maryland, with an overture of shovels scraping, trucks rumbling -- and budgets breaking.

By the end of the day, thousands of state, local and private employees working round-the-clock had made many main roads passable, especially in Baltimore City. But in outlying areas such as Howard, Carroll and northern Baltimore counties, workers had an uphill battle even clearing thoroughfares.

And every jurisdiction still faced the near-impossible task of plowing miles of side streets while trying not to bury the cars and driveways that residents had shoveled out.

They worked knowing that their best efforts might be set back by Friday, when the National Weather Service predicts another storm.

The blizzard already looks to have a record-breaking price tag, for which Gov. Parris N. Glendening yesterday said he would request federal aid. He estimated the state's cost at about $10 million, and that local jurisdictions collectively could spend about the same. The most recent paralyzing blizzard before this one, in March 1993, cost half that.

"We're working with other states because it's not just a Maryland issue," Mr. Glendening said.

City's bill could be $1 million

In Baltimore City, Public Works Director George G. Balog said yesterday about $518,000 already had been spent on the storm by his department alone, and estimated the total would reach $1 million. Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke estimated the city's total cost at more than $1.5 million.

"This snow is definitely going to blow the county budget," said Betty Dixon, a spokeswoman for the Anne Arundel County Department of Public Works. "Each year we budget $250,000 for snow removal, but with this many people working overtime, I expect we will use all that money up."

The complaints already have started. Residents wondered when the plows would get to their side streets, many of which had drifts waist-high. Officials pleaded for understanding.

The big question everywhere seemed to be: Where to put all the snow?

State environmental officials yesterday quickly gave the city permission to dump drifts into the harbor -- where the snow was likely to end up anyway as runoff. But when citizens complained after hearing that plan announced, Mr. Balog said the dumping would be done "only as a last resort."

In the meantime, Mr. Balog had found another spot for the huge snow piles: the 21.5-acre grounds of the former Lafayette Courts public housing project, reduced to rubble in August to make room for a new community.

Yesterday, the city began tackling side streets in each of the four corners of the city to test new snow-removal techniques. Because about half of Baltimore's side streets are too small for conventional snow plows, workers were using other pieces of heavy equipment to lift the drifts out in chunks and cart them away.

In Howard County, crews were further behind. Strong winds whipped snow drifts across the main roads as fast as they were plowed.

"We're barely holding our own," Public Works Director James M. Irvin said yesterday afternoon. Even main roads were limited to one lane, he said. Side roads were impassable. "It's very bad," he said.

Mr. Irvin said the county used some private contractors to help the 150 public employees who had been pushing nearly 100 pieces of equipment for 30 hours since Sunday and was looking to hire more. Crews would be on the road another 30 hours, he estimated.

At the Baltimore County snow center, where plowing routes are coordinated, a large wall map told the story of the battle against the snow. The map was dotted with black pins, which signified districts where plowing was under way. But conspicuously absent were any green pins -- which show that plowing is finished.

Baltimore County's 200 vehicles and 281 workers (including 33 private contractors' drivers and vehicles) were to begin clearing side streets at 4 a.m. today. But a spokesman for County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger III predicted that most residents would need most of today just to get their own vehicles free.

The executive put the cost of the storm to his county at nearly $1 million, and county highways chief C. Richard Moore said he already had used two-thirds of the $1.5 million appropriated for storm emergencies before this storm hit.

That means this storm will put the fund at least $500,000 in the red, and a transfer of funds from surplus will soon be needed.

In Anne Arundel County, workers have dumped 800 tons of salt and 140 tons of salt and sand on local roads, not including Interstate 97, Route 2 and U.S. 50, which are maintained by the state, Ms. Dixon said.

The National Guard is expected to lend the county a front-end loader to help clear Riva Road, Forest Drive and other heavily traveled routes in the Annapolis area. School bus routes will be the first to be cleared.

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