One for the history books

On February 14, 2013, in Latest News, by The Somerville Times

mayor_webBy Joseph A. Curtatone

(The opinions and views expressed in the commentaries of The Somerville News belong solely to the authors of those commentaries and do not reflect the views or opinions of The Somerville News, its staff or publishers.)

Until last Thursday, it had been a full two years since we last declared a snow emergency in the City of Somerville. As if to make up for the long respite – or perhaps to commemorate the 35th anniversary of the infamous blizzard of 1978 – Mother Nature slammed us with one of the most historic snow storms in the state’s history, but despite the challenges presented by more than two feet of snow, high winds and the like, Somerville has weathered “Nemo” quite well (pun intended).

Over the weekend, our DPW crews logged more than 5,500 man hours in blizzard conditions, utilizing upwards of 150 pieces of equipment, from plows to sanders to backhoes and everything in between. That doesn’t include the Customer Services Representatives who fielded more than 3,000 calls in three days, nor does it include the various employees from several departments dedicated to fielding requests via social media, ensuring that residents received important information in real time. And it certainly doesn’t include the number of hours employees will continue to log throughout this week, working quite literally around the clock to clear squares and neighborhoods, streets and sidewalks of snow and ice that create treacherous walking and driving conditions.

Their efforts have been nothing short of heroic, especially considering the unusual challenges posed by Nemo’s duration, intensity and timing.

Even in a typical snow event in a typical urban community, it’s never easy to find places to put excess snow. When more than two feet of snow is dumped on the most densely populated community in the northeast, it can be nearly impossible to traverse already narrow sidewalks and secondary roads made treacherous by snow-banks and -piles up to six feet high. We therefore upped the ante in terms of our response. We called in extra contractors, immediately increasing our capacity to move snow off of our streets and public ways and implemented a multi-stage assault that began with main intersections and squares, and gradually worked toward schools and secondary roadways. (Since much of the snow must simply be carried away, I want to thank Federal Realty Investment Trust for generously allowing us the use of one of their vacant parcels of land at Assembly Square as a storage area.)

As I write this, I am happy to report that, thanks to the hard work of DPW employees and to higher temperatures over the last several days, snow removal efforts are proceeding much quicker than initially expected.  Which is why, by the time you read this column, our snow emergency and parking ban have been lifted, school is back in session, and we’re slowly beginning the climb back to normalcy.

We recognize there are many areas throughout the city still in need of relief, and therefore our work will continue. In the meantime, if you’ve had the opportunity to travel to other cities and towns in the region, you’ve seen how difficult we are all finding it to dig out from this storm. You’ve probably also noticed, however, that by comparison, Somerville’s crews have done an exemplary job plowing and otherwise clearing snow.  Our DPW workers, and contracted workers, should be commended for a job well done despite some harsh conditions.

As we continue our snow removal efforts, there are ways in which residents and property owners can be helpful, and I’d ask you to please consider taking the following precautions and actions to help us ensure our streets and sidewalks remain safe:

• Make sure that sidewalks in front of your property are shoveled to a minimum width of 42”. This allows residents in wheelchairs to safely pass.

• Call 311 to report unshoveled sidewalks.  We will log and track these properties, and issue fines on a daily basis as allowed by law to any property owners failing to properly clear sidewalks.

• Shovel out fire hydrants. There are approximately 2,000 hydrants citywide, and although members of the Somerville Fire Department have been searching for and shoveling out hydrants each day, if you are able to identify and clear paths to hydrants near your home, this will greatly increase response time in the unfortunate event of an emergency.

• Keep young children safe by preventing them from play on or near high snow banks that abut the street.  The high banks create visibility issues for motor vehicles, and can cause dangerous accidents.

• Make sure your venting systems, including tail pipes of your vehicle, remain free from snow and ice. Carbon Monoxide can build up and be extremely dangerous.

The community response to this storm – both in terms of feedback and assistance – has been tremendous, and I thank each of you for working with us, holding us accountable, and for continuing Somerville’s streak of fun and innovation.  (That was quite a snowman show in Union Square!)


23 Responses to “One for the history books”

  1. mememe says:

    Take note of the Fire hydrant one, this is huge, and a great way for you to help out your neighbors.

    ” Make sure that sidewalks in front of your property are shoveled to a minimum width of 42”. This allows residents in wheelchairs to safely pass.

    • Call 311 to report unshoveled sidewalks. We will log and track these properties, and issue fines on a daily basis as allowed by law to any property owners failing to properly clear sidewalks.”

    Does the city and state have the same responsibilities? There are public areas where there is walkway that is still not cleared. They are the property owner, what ‘stick’ is there to make sure they fulfill this obligation as well mayor?

  2. I wonder if there is a Google map noting the location of fire hydrants throughout the city? If not, there should be. If yes, then it would be cool to have Street Teams created to ensure they are properly shoveled.

  3. j. connelly says:

    ‘Courtney’ Contact the Fire Dept as they know the locations as they alert the Fire Companies when they respond to the alarm out so the Engines will know where to go to look n hook up to a hydrant. Perhaps “The News” can publish the info.

    Shoveled hydrants are happy hydrants and the less time for an engine to hook up to one can mean less damage loss and more lives saved. If the firefighters have to expend all their energy digging out the fire hydrant to get water, then the fatigue is going to wear them down and put them in harms way when they enter the burning building.

  4. A. Moore says:

    There are not a lot of sidewalks that are shoveled 42″. I didn’t know that one myself. I usually make a path so people can get by and then work on making it wider as I can. My whole sidewalk is bare now. The fire hydrants should have some kind of pole on them so we can locate them. I have no clue where there is one where I live. I should know. Will have to make a note to my memory to take a picture of where it is so I can make sure it is cleared out. I just finished up yesterday shoveling it the way I like to leave it. For some reason it seems to take longer every year. We still have some old timers on this street so some of it is well cleared, some parts are a shovel path waiting for mother nature to make it wider.

  5. Joe Lynch says:

    Maybe we could have “flash mobs”, mobilized by social media guru’s, to shovel out the hydrants. Or maybe shovel out the in home, snow bound seniors……….instead of heading to their favorite watering hole or making “snow art”.

    Just my opinion.

  6. A Moore says:

    Joe, this 2013 in Somerville, they go to pubs now. The Howie Winters days are over.

  7. Steve Roix says:

    Joe Lynch:

    Actually that’s a pretty good idea. They could still head to their favorite watering holes after shoveling out some snow bound seniors. I’m a little past flash mob age, plus I have little kids, but I’d consider participating if it was organized around something like that.

  8. S 2 da ville says:

    As important as it is to clear the streets, and Somerville does a better job than it’s neighbors, Mr. Mayor’s favorite word to describe a snow emegency is “Cha-Ching!” Tagging and towing before the snow starts? Nothing but a big money grab.

  9. j connelly says:

    Hey how about Tufts having groups of students shovel the walks of the handicapped/seniors and they could get “life experience” credits towards their semester marks!

  10. A. Moore says:

    We can go one better j connelly, just have a keg of beer at each place you want shoveled which won’t be opened until the sidewalk is bare. You probably have as much chance of this happening as my kid showing up at my door with shovel in hand and snow on the ground.

  11. There are some us who would gladly assist anyone in their time of need. I’m one of them. And, no, we don’t need a keg of beer in exchange.

    I believe the City has a program that matches shoveling needs with a High School student. In exchange, I think, the student receives a gift certificate to a local business. Nancy Bacci or Cindy Hickey would have more information about this if it is still going on.

    Also, the Mayor has said that calling 311 is an option for people who are unable to shovel themselves. This is also mentioned on the City Connect calls too. So, lets look into what programs are available before making snarky comments.

  12. A. Moore says:

    I guess I am selfish. Having spent that Saturday shoveling myself out and then taking Sunday off my shoveling to spend it in the ER connected to heart machines and then coming home and going right out and shovel for people who cannot physically and financially do so for themselves while my poor wife went and sat with some of the elderly that were alone and took a chance coming home and getting fined for being on the road. I guess making a little fun of some of the tufts student is a bit much. I apologize for being inconsiderate.

  13. No, making fun of the Tufts students is fine 😉

    However, if the difference between you and heart machines is shoveling snow, 311 is available for you to call and I’m available for you to email. The assumption that ALL young people would choose pubs & snow angels over assisting a neighbor is not accurate and personally offending.

  14. Joe Lynch says:

    Two separate issues here. One is about our own safety. The folks in the Magoun square neighborhood and many who participate in the Neighborhood Association, have for many years shoveled out the hydrants near their homes. Many thanks to Stuart, Jackie and Sohl, Danny, Cheryl etc. for taking care of some of the hydrants in our neighborhood during the recent storm. Only one on Richardson St. was left unattended.

    The issue of assisting our in-home seniors with shoveling is somewhat more complicated and concerns the safety of others. Our Council on Aging has a list of those folks who have requested assistance with shoveling but struggles to maintain enough folks who actually want to shovel and are willing to submit to the required CORI check in order to be placed on the list. Hence, the good folks in my neighborhood assisted, to my knowledge, at least 6 seniors with shoveling during the storm.

    If anyone in the Magoun Square neighborhood is interested where there is a hydrant needing shoveling or a senior who needs some help, I can easily be contacted.

  15. Somerbreeze says:

    Speaking of Tufts students, did you catch the news about Tufts students’ drunken rowdyism and public urination in the lobby of the Westin Copley Place on Feb. 1st?

    The Tufts Dean of Students berated them, but little good that’ll do. Tufts has unleashed their little hoodlums on our neighborhoods for decades, and residents pay the price.

  16. A. Moore says:

    Somerbreeze, not that uncommon. I have been in many apartments in the Tufts area after they cleared out or were thrown out. It is incredible. But some insist on doing this over and over again. I would rather get less money than deal with that. Seems it would be cheaper in the long run.

  17. A. Moore says:

    Joe, we still have some of the older Somerville residents around me that are from the old school. They do not ask for help. I am aware of some who need help as in the Summer when they walk up the street they stop and talk to my parents when they take a rest. So I know who needs the help. You can’t give them anything, they are very proud. I am happy to take care of the snow for them as they cannot. I just do it. Same as others did for me when I can’t. I have long been aware of Cindy but always had my hands full around here. Years ago when we all knew each other it was who could get out and help before anyone else could. Sad but a lot of the newer people here don’t get that concept. Some walk up to Walgreen to get a couple of cans of food since the Star closed, they can’t get over to the S&S, but you can’t go for them or take them. I don’t know how they make it some days. Some of the people who do their sidewalks stop short of the next house and the other side does the same so we have that unshoveled spot in between. Also they don’t shovel the corner so you can get on the sidewalk. So they just have to stay in the street. Then the ones who just do a shovel wide path the snow melts and freezes over making it an ice skating rink. But I am sure you have also seen all of that also.

  18. j connelly says:

    Wow & some of them may become doctors with drinking problems in the future. Tufts Admin will cover it up but truth is it is an ongoing problem.

    Just check out how many times your tax dollar$ are being $pent while your fire/ambulance services, sometimes multiple incidents within the same time period at various Tufts locations, are tied up responding to calls at the dorms for drug/alcohol problems. Tax-Exempt Tufts eating up your tax dollars.

    Why arent our elected officials charging Tufts for this. Meanwhile your loved one may be waiting for an ambulance responding from another town as the ones servicing this city are tied up at Tufts. Another example of the Tufts Bad Neighbor policy.

  19. Joe Lynch says:

    A. Moore – Unfortunately, I do see it everyday in the Magoun Square neighborhood. Lot’s of talk and very little action from some.

    And from one who cared for my own parents in their later years, I know exactly what you are speaking about when it comes to our seniors and their desire for independence. Neighbors of mine would call me and tell me my 92 year old Mum was out chopping ice or shoveling again after I had left the house. Could not keep the woman from doing what she needed to do. She was blessed with a strong mind and body till the end. My concern these days is the seniors who are not as strong. And there is nothing wrong with cleaning off their porch and shoveling for them without them knowing who did it if they have an aversion to asking for help.

    As Mum used to say, “You should not have to be asked, just do it.” And so we do.

  20. A. Moore says:

    I am sure Joe if she were anything like my parents if we didn’t think of it we were soon reminded. I have a battle going on with my neighbor about the snow. It is who can get to it first. If I am working by the time I get home he has it done, or if I can get to it I can get his done before he does. You got to appreciate the old timers here. What the heck am I talking about, I am about there!

  21. Somerbreeze says:

    j. connelly – Perhaps City Hall has some kind of backroom sweetheart deal with Tufts – “You provide some scholarships to SHS seniors, etc., and we won’t push for higher voluntary annual contributions from Tufts” sort of thing…

    Whatever is going on, the Tufts Pacification Machine is slick, well-oiled, and just keeps streamrollin’ along (cue William Warfield)….

  22. j connelly says:

    “Somerbreeze”, you have that correct! If we did not have Alderman Bob Trane in Ward 7 keeping an eye on things Tufts would be pulling more stunts. You can bet some politicians in the past and probably into the future got an education for themselves or family members at Tufts for a reduced fee.

    You would think Tufts, with all the donations from their big time graduates, would at least haul the snow from the intersections along Powderhouse Blvd, Packard Ave, Curtis & North Sts. and dump it in their vast fields. After all the large amount of pedestrian traffic in these areas comes from the Tufts student population and it is a safety factor for their students. Several have become pedestrians hit by cars in these locations.

    Let Tufts pay some overtime to have their workers assisting the city with removing this snow instead of all the $$$ they spend renovating the Tufts “President’s” house.

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