Northern cities sympathize, remind us snow melts Storm dumping on Md. raises eyebrows from even the winter-buried

Blizzard Of 1996

January 11, 1996|By Sandy Banisky | Sandy Banisky,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

Some advice, Baltimore, from the cities of the North: Relax.

Or, in the words of Bob Troolin, Duluth, Minnesota's street maintenance manager, "This too shall melt."

In Duluth, in Buffalo, even in Anchorage -- cities that cope with steady snowfalls -- city officials yesterday weren't lording it over the East Coast wimps of winter. Instead, those cities were offering only sympathy to Baltimore as it struggles to push aside 2 feet of snow and get on with life.

"When we get the kind of snow that you people have out there, there isn't any city that can manage that in a real timely manner," said Terry Wobick, sanitation supervisor in Milwaukee. "It's probably going to take a couple of weeks to get back to normal."

"There's no easy solution," said Frank Thomas, public works director for Manchester, N.H., which deals with 65 inches of snow in a typical winter.

"It's not as bad as an earthquake," said Vincent LoVallo, Buffalo's street sanitation commissioner. "It melts and it goes away. It's nothing to get angry about, nothing to get a heart attack over. Bear with it and enjoy your family."

That's not to say, Mr. LoVallo added, that he doesn't worry when it snows in his city of 325,000. The taxpayers expect clear streets.

"To tell you I'm not a nervous wreck every time it snows, I'd be lying to you," Mr. LoVallo said. "It's a tremendous responsibility to keep a major city open."

Elected officials have been voted into exile after their crews did bad jobs of cleaning the streets. "Politically speaking, snow kills," Mr. LoVallo said.

Mindful of the public's demand for cleared streets, cities have different strategies for attack.

In Manchester, the city requires all vehicles be parked off the street. That means homeowners can't park their cars in front of their houses. Failure to heed means a $90 towing fee.

During Anchorage's winters, no parking is allowed downtown from midnight to 6 a.m. "The second it starts snowing, we're plowing," said public works director James Fero. "In the morning, when people come to work, the core of the city is clear."

Last year, two storms dumped two feet each onto Anchorage before Christmas. "I don't remember anything being closed at any time," Mr. Fero said. "No schools were closed. No businesses were closed." People just put studded tires on their cars and carried on.

In early December, when Buffalo had more than three feet of snow on a Sunday, Mr. LoVallo's crews managed to keep up, at least in downtown.

The key to keeping a city open, the officials agree, is having a fleet of vehicles ready to plow as the snow starts. But when the snow reaches a certain depth, or when a storm dumps new snow atop old, there's nothing to do, the city officials agree, but haul it away.

"You've got to push it off to the side of the road," Mr. Fero said from Anchorage, "or take it away, or wait for spring. But I guess that's not really an option."

Usually, the cities carry the snow to special sites, where it may be piled six stories high.

Years ago, the cities close to water just dumped the snow there. But that meant that hubcaps, beer cans, papers and oil plowed up with the snow also went into the lake or bay. Today, to protect the water from pollution, officials haul the snow to the dump and wait for spring. When the snow melts, the trash is left on the ground to be swept up and carted off.

Mr. Fero calls hauling snow to a dump "snow storage."

From Manchester, which has been snow-covered since Thanksgiving, Mr. Thomas advised patience. "Eighteen, 24, 30 inches of snow -- boy, that's an undertaking for anybody. It's going to take quite a bit of time to get cleaned up."

"I can't even imagine the type of storm you guys have gotten," said Mr. Wobick, of Milwaukee. "You just have to fight it. It's an extraordinary-type storm and it's going to take an extraordinary-type effort to clean it up."

Some final words.

From Mr. Fero in Anchorage: "Get the cars off the streets so we can plow them."

From Mr. Troolin in Duluth: "Keep your humor. Sometimes it looks like there's no end to it. But if you lose your humor, you go downhill quick."

From Mr. Thomas in Manchester: "I would urge people who are shoveling out cars not to shovel it out into the streets, because that just compounds the situation."

And from Milwaukee's Mr. Wobick: "Spring will come. You'll see your lawns again. And you'll live to tell your kids and grandkids about it, the winter of '96."

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