Plow drivers sneer at storm

SUN JOURNAL

Experts: Anne Arundel County imports hired guns to deal with 2 feet of snow - equipment from Buffalo, N.Y., and operators who consider the weekend event a flurry.

February 21, 2003|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF

When more than 2 feet of snow blanketed Maryland last weekend, officials in Anne Arundel County called in the toughest, hardest-driving snow-busting guys in the business. They called Buffalo.

And when the guys from Buffalo, N.Y., arrived Monday with their big plows and surveyed the snowbanks they'd traveled more than 200 miles to battle, they had to look again.

"Snow?" they said.

"You guys are babies," says Matt Brown, the City of Buffalo's director of communications. "Just babies."

"I've got this much snow in my back yard," says Evan Haseley, 37, of Niagara Falls, N.Y., one of about 45 Buffalo-area workers who came south.

"Why are we bothering?" says Travis Gillan, 33, of Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada, another member of the Buffalo crew. "Why don't you just let it melt?"

Buffalo knows how to deal with snow.

After a snowstorm dropped more than 6 feet of snow over four days in December, it took city crews and private contractors a day to clear all main arteries and secondary roads. Emergency vehicles reported no major snags.

In the Baltimore region, fire engines, many of them equipped with snow chains, slipped and slid. A few had to be towed.

"Yeah, you got some snow here, but it's not that big of a deal," says Michael Kuligowski, who runs the snow emergency team for Scott Lawn Yard Inc. of Buffalo, a company that leases front-end loaders and the men who know how to maneuver them during snow emergencies.

Anne Arundel is paying the company $125 an hour for each man and machine to help clear compacted snow.

Kuligowski - who has seen memorable snowstorms in his 42 years living in the Wing Capital of the World - recalls a 1977 Buffalo storm that left behind snowdrifts the size of houses: "You look at pictures from that storm and there are people touching [the tops of ] telephone poles."

Kuligowski and a good number of his crew haven't slept much more than five or six hours since they arrived in Annapolis earlier this week.

They've been working nonstop digging out narrow streets and cul-de-sacs all over the county. They've also pitched in to clear runways and taxiways at the Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

"This morning, we picked up all the county schools," Kuligowski said yesterday.

County residents who have encountered the Buffalo crew, some of whom were sporting tank tops yesterday, have greeted them with outstretched arms, as well as platters of turkey and mashed potatoes.

Anne Arundel County couldn't have managed without them. County officials hired the crew over the weekend when they realized their own trucks and plows wouldn't be able to handle all of the snow.

Most county trucks are equipped to cut through only about a foot of snow at a time. When the snow started to pile up, county officials knew they were in trouble.

Kuligowski, the snow emergency team leader, stayed up through Sunday night putting together the deal with the help of an old friend and local contact, Ozzie Osborne, an Arnold resident and 1985 U.S. Naval Academy graduate.

Osborne, who was Kuligowski's driver yesterday, said that he knew his old friend and his crew of drivers would be able to help: "Hey, they know their snow. They are the big guns of snow removal."

As Osborne and Kuligowski cruised Anne Arundel's Broadneck Peninsula yesterday, they tried to find streets and dead-ends still covered with a white blanket of icy snow.

On Century Vista Drive in Arnold, homeowner Geoff Bailey, 35, ran out into the street when he saw the big yellow bulldozer and front-end loader. He asked Travis Gillan, the Canadian, if he'd wait so that residents could pull their cars off the street.

"It's nice that these guys are here to move the snow out," he said. "Marylanders have no idea how to deal with the snow."

Up the road, at a shopping center off Bay Dale Drive, another Buffalo crew member said he was surprised at how some local residents were responding to the snow.

Standing in the parking lot, his 12-hour shift nearly over, Evan Haseley said he wanted to soak up some sun before he left for the hotel.

"I'll have a nice suntan going before I get home," he said, examining his muscular arms that were already a sporting a healthy honey-gold tone.

Buffalo had its first snow in November, and Haseley said his back yard remains covered by about 16 inches of snow.

"We ride snowmobiles in the winter," he says. "Am I tired of it? No way!"

For Kuligowski, a former disaster specialist with the Small Business Administration, the grind of 24-hour snow plowing, including equipment failures and last-minute refuelings, is getting tiresome.

"I need to sleep," he tells a colleague at the Days Inn in Annapolis. "I've had too much caffeine, I can't remember too well," he sputters into a phone.

Kuligowski isn't sure when he and his crew will return home to Buffalo. He said there were still many roads and schools to plow, and a thaw followed by a freeze could make snow removal even more difficult.

"That could be a worse situation than before," he says, his voice raspy from too many cigarettes and too little sleep. "You don't want that."

"When you look around here and you see all the cars in the ditches, you get the sense that people have no clue," he says. "You have to know your weather."

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