Weary of winter

Plowing effort gets mixed reviews as cleanup pushes on

February 14, 2010|By Larry Carson | larry.carson@baltsun.com

Heavy, blowing snow quickly covered Howard County streets Wednesday, eclipsing complaints about the cleanup after last weekend's storm but leaving exhausted county officials and workers to face more days of plowing, digging and frustration.

While some residents still nursed irritation over what they felt was a slow effort on a few cul-de-sacs and circles in residential areas, county officials tried to decide where to put all the new snow as plows again began their long rounds.

"It's a real battle," County Executive Ken Ulman said Wednesday at the height of the second storm. "We're trying to keep some of the main roads passable."

Usually, the county only loads snow along narrow Main Street in Ellicott City into trucks for dumping elsewhere, but wider loading and trucking away of snow may have to be done to clear residential streets already piled high with it, Ulman said.

County Councilwoman Jen Terrasa, a Democrat who represents the southeastern county, said she's seen some of the tension firsthand as she patrolled North Laurel's streets with county public works officials.

Some residents have legitimate complaints about places left unplowed, she said, and a few have cursed and yelled at drivers of county plows that pushed snow into parking spaces or newly shoveled driveways.

"One [driver] I met was practically in tears," Terrasa wrote a constituent in an e-mail. "He was being yelled at by a neighbor who wanted him to hand shovel out his car because it had become a little more buried when this young man's plow went around a narrow cul-de-sac with illegally parked cars."

Terrasa said the plow driver said a man in the previous street "had come at him with a metal shovel and banged up the back of his truck."

Others have thanked the drivers and given them snacks.

Bud Goth e-mailed County Council Chairwoman Courtney Watson to compliment the job that Howard's plows have done. His job took him through parts of Montgomery, Prince George's and Baltimore counties Tuesday, he said.

"The condition of roads by far were the safest and clearest here in Howard County." His own small court off Normandy Drive in Ellicott City was in better shape, he said, than Route 198 in Laurel.

Others chafed as they waited for a plow.

Angela Beltram's observation about county snow-clearing efforts on her street off St. John's Lane in Ellicott City resonates with lots of Howard County residents after every major snowstorm.

"All I know is, our street is one of the last" to be plowed, Beltram said.

Howard Shyu of Kathleen Court in Hickory Ridge and Adil E. Shamoo, who lives with his wife, Bonnie Bricker, in one of five homes on a circle at the end of Shadow Lane in the same area, said county plows didn't reach their homes until Tuesday morning, though Shamoo said the rest of Shadow Lane was plowed late the previous Saturday. Shyu was grateful, finally, for the help.

"Thank God, we can now go out," Shyu e-mailed a reporter. "Overall, I think the county effort is good."

But David Marc of Elkridge complained bitterly in a series of e-mails that the county should have more on-call contracts for private heavy construction equipment to handle major snowfalls.

"Elkridge was the epicenter of the storm; it made the national news. Yet, while I was out plowing neighbors' driveways on the sunny Sunday we had, I did not see much action from the county, at least in old Elkridge," he said.

The side streets off Old Washington Boulevard were plowed Monday, officials and other residents said. In hindsight, Marc said after Wednesday's storm, he feels the county did a good job.

County officials have used the social networking site Facebook to keep residents informed and to receive their comments. Ulman said he takes the complaints to heart and spent hours driving around with public works director James Irvin checking on individual complaints.

"If anybody's frustrated, it's me," but there are good reasons snow removal has taken longer, he said. For example, conditions were so bad on Interstate 95 over the weekend that scores of big trucks headed for the Truckers Inn in Jessup. Finding no room to park, they lined public roads, which occupied county equipment for hours, pulling big rigs out one by one.

Downed power lines, poorly parked cars and medical emergencies all require help from county equipment. Some private operators are not as familiar with county plow routes and do not have electronic location devices, so their work does not appear on the county's Snow Tracker Web site. The site was designed for a typical 6- or 8-inch snowstorm to show residents where each plow is located and which streets have been salted and/or plowed. In a huge storm, however, the site is less accurate because of extra equipment brought in and the extraordinary conditions.

If it's your street that hasn't been plowed, "you're going to be frustrated," Ulman said. "I understand it."

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