“No plows in Levittown. At least not on Cooper Lane. 10:30 p.m. and haven’t seen one plow all day. Disgusted.”
—Comment on the Town of Hempstead’s Facebook page on Jan. 4.
The complaints, like the snow, just kept on coming. In all, about 3,660 comments were officially logged via the various ways citizens connect with their town government, including a dedicated online reporting form activated just for storms. The vast majority were critical.
The town was still registering complaints one week after what meteorologists called a “bomb cyclone,” the equivalent of a snowy hurricane, dumped up to 14 inches of snow in Nassau County on Jan. 4. It led Governor Andrew Cuomo to declare a state of emergency on Long island.
Days after the storm ended, plows still had not appeared on some of the 1,200 miles of roads that the Town of Hempstead maintains. No wonder 1,000 of the complaints were registered between Monday, Jan. 8 and Thursday, Jan. 11.
As usual, three departments responded—Highway, Sanitation and Parks. They faced unusual and difficult challenges in the first major storm of 2018, which ended by 6 p.m. The sheer amount, and the blowing winds meant that many roads had to be replowed—and others were ignored.
New Town of Hempstead Supervisor Laura Gillen, just four days into her tenure, faced her first crisis.
After the storm, her administration undertook a study of the town’s response. In the words of a Feb. 20 press release, it called for “streamlined response, enhanced accountability and reorganization of operations.”
Gillen praised the hard work of the employees, who worked 21 straight hours on Jan. 4, with three hours of breaks.
Her office compiled data from GPS systems (installed in every town vehicle), reviewed areas of high complaints and interviewed commissioners and senior supervisory staff involved in the operations.
In light of the many complaints, Gillen commented, “It was necessary to review the prior administration’s policies relating to snow removal and evaluate how they could be improved.”
Gillen recommended some of the following actions:
- Consolidating oversight of snow plowing operations from three departments into the Highway Department, answerable directly to the supervisor.
- Assigning non-snow plowing personnel to the snow operations command center in order to provide feedback to residents’ complaints.
- Creating multiple levels of responses based upon varying degrees of snowstorm conditions that can be implemented on short notice.
- Reviewing and updating written map areas for salting and plowing; taking into account the unique features and conditions of each area, and then properly matching existing snow plowing equipment to handle each map’s features.
- Requiring foremen and supervisors to make a final inspection of town roadways, along with reports of personnel assigned to each piece of equipment in their designated map areas.
- Updating map areas developed approximately 50 years ago to reflect the most up-to-date changes in local roadways and development.
Gillen said the highway commissioner “will be charged with strategically stationing equipment and personnel in geographic areas that are closer to actual plow areas, as well as by matching specific types of equipment to the types of streets that are needed in individual neighborhoods, rather than by using the ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach, currently in effect.”
Town Councilwoman Erin King Sweeney said she was out and about during the storm.
“You always get complaints, and you’ll always have problem areas,” she told Anton Media Group. “A lot [of the problems] had to do with the nature and severity of the storm. At the end of the day, our employees worked crazy hard, worked themselves to the bone. You can’t fight the last storm. They’re always different.”
Complaints And More
According to the town’s “Snow Report,” among the frequent concerns/complaints were:
- Roadway not widened
- Plow driver follows the same path each time plowing the road
- Dead-end roads/cul-de-sacs ignored, not plowed at all
- Intersections difficult to navigate, mounds of soft snow left in intersections
- Plow driver addresses specific complaint but ignores readily apparent adjacent problems/issues.
Oceanside was the hamlet with the most complaints (423), followed by Levittown (285) and East Meadow (246).
The three departments involved in snow removal operations deployed 289 vehicles, including 252 with plows. They engaged 358 total personnel through the ensuing weekend, including 307 full-time workers and supervisory staff.
Overtime costs for snow removal were estimated to be $310,000, and between 8,000 and 9,000 tons of salt were used, costing the town a minimum of $591,600 and a maximum of $665,550. In addition $12,000 in gas expenses and $28,800 in property and vehcile property claims were part of the cost.
The 2018 budget allows a total of $2 million in snow removal, including $500,000 for salaries. As the “Snow Report” explains, the salaries cover “part-time/temporary snow plow operators, Highway Department overtime and reimbursement to other departments for their employee overtime only.”