County admits it stumbled in snow

Officials apologize for failure to clear some roads, vow to improve

February 15, 2000|By Scott Calvert | Scott Calvert,SUN STAFF

As mild weather continued to melt remnants of recent snowstorms, county officials tried yesterday to dissolve lingering public anger about what they admit was a subpar plowing job.

The message: We're sorry, and we'll do better next time.

"To those county residents who feel you did not receive the level of service you thought you should, I offer my apology with a sincere pledge that our efforts will continue to give you quality service in the future," Public Works Director John M. Brusnighan wrote in an open letter to Anne Arundel County residents.

Brusnighan acknowledged at a news conference that because main roads and school bus routes are top priorities, plows merely "made passes" at many subdivisions and never visited others. Crofton, North Glen Burnie Park and Cape St. Claire had some of the worst road conditions, he said, while South County fared better.

Residents were not shy about venting their frustration. During the past month, the department received more than 7,000 calls, many from residents unhappy with the state of roads. Arnold resident Ralph Lee placed two of those calls.

"Both times I was assured somebody would be here," Lee said yesterday. "To my knowledge, nobody has come through."

While he accepted partial blame, Brusnighan said a series of storms overwhelmed his staff of 191 and its 131 pieces of snow-removal equipment.

First came a 6-inch snowfall Jan. 20, followed less than a week later by nearly 20 inches in places, followed by an ice storm that encrusted it all in plow-defying armor.

"Rather than just a snowstorm, we had a massive snow sandwich," Brusnighan said.

Making the task more difficult, he said, was that 42 percent of the 1,673 miles of road maintained by the county are cul-de-sacs or dead-end streets.

The plowing has not been cheap: The county has spent more than $1 million this winter on overtime, outside plowing contractors, salt and sand, far exceeding its $280,000 snow-removal budget. A $1 million county contingency fund is expected to absorb the overrun.

Among the possible changes Brusnighan suggested for next year are:

Adding plows and salt-spreading equipment to seven county pickup trucks.

Seeing "what it would take" for private operators to fulfill their county contracts before taking care of their private customers.

Equipping each truck with a $3,000 Global Positioning System -- satellite devices to improve communication between dispatchers and plows. Brusnighan proposed testing the devices next year at an estimated cost of $100,000.

The mea culpa, complete with weather maps and a written chronology of snow-removal efforts, was the first in Brusnighan's seven years as director.

"The last time I was called lousy at anything was in high school Spanish," he said.

He made a point of noting that the county also received a few thank-you letters.

Another official noted that about 60 county employees volunteered to clear sidewalks and driveways for elderly residents.

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