Suffolk residents slam storm cleanup pace

Gwen Contrera says her neighborhood near East Lake Terrace and Emerald Street� has not been plowed. Videojournalist: James Carbone (Feb. 12, 2013)

Miles of Suffolk County roads remained clogged by snow and ice Monday night, fueling frustration among residents three days after a blizzard blanketed parts of the region with as much as 3 feet of snow.

People living in Brookhaven, Smithtown and some parts of Huntington and Islip angrily complained about streets that had not seen a plow, haphazard storm cleanup efforts and unresponsive town offices where callers couldn't get past programmed answering systems.

"I called the [Brookhaven] highway department. I called the town, their emergency number. You get an automatic recording and then it disconnects," said Coram resident John McDermott, 50. "They expect us to pay our taxes on a timely basis, and they aren't doing their jobs."


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The breakdown in cleanup operations kept people from work, forced the closure of schools and drew comparisons to the Long Island Power Authority's inability to communicate with customers or quickly restore power after superstorm Sandy three months ago.

It came after officials had days to prepare for the possibility of heavy snow on Long Island and should have led to better preparations, residents, some town officials and observers said.

 

Severity, resources blamed

Town officials said they were doing their best to deal with a lot of heavy, wet snow using old equipment, some of which broke down, and relying on contractors with smaller trucks instead of heavy machinery.

"I had some breakdowns with my vehicles. They're very old. I didn't realize some of the areas that weren't done," Smithtown Highway Superintendent Glenn Jorgensen said Monday after missing a promised 5 p.m. Sunday deadline for plowing all town streets. "I'm the superintendent of highways. The buck stops here," he added, "But we learned from our mistakes."

William Naughton, highway superintendent in Huntington, said cleanup crews were experiencing "the worst possible scenario" with the mix of a large snowfall followed by rain.

Contractors working with dump and pickup trucks were getting stuck and left in frustration, Naughton said. His department had to request heavy equipment from the town and state.

But Town Supervisor Frank Petrone said the highway department needed to continue refining its planning.

Islip Town Supervisor Tom Croci said all streets had been plowed by Monday. He attributed delays to an old fleet of snow removal equipment and a smaller workforce. "The kind of investment into equipment that should have been made as it's aged, wasn't done," he said.

Coordination and communications also broke down.

Brookhaven Councilman Steve Fiore-Rosenfeld said the town highway department had no master road map to identify which streets had already been plowed and it had no way to calculate how much more equipment was needed to complete snow removal.

Smithtown directed residents to report unplowed streets to the highway or public safety department. Late-afternoon callers to the highway department heard a recording: "Our regular business hours are 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday."

"I just feel like we weren't listened to," said Pamela Martino, 46, a 10-year Smithtown resident. "We have elderly neighbors on the block. . . . They can't get out. Do they have all their medicine?"

 

Headache for motorists

Nassau County, which got only a few inches of snow, reported that its roads were passable as of Saturday, allowing it to lend 14 plows to Suffolk and the Town of Brookhaven. Suffolk reported its roads were clear Monday, after contending with stranded motorists on County Road 83 during the weekend.

Motorists caught in the storm Friday also abandoned cars along the Long Island Expressway, hampering cleanup efforts and leading some to ask why the road was not closed earlier or plowed sooner and more frequently.

Robert Sinclair, manager of media relations for New York AAA, said state and local governments should have plowed more aggressively. Bigger storms in the past didn't shutdown the LIE, he said. "It just seemed the storm got ahead of those in charge of plowing," Sinclair said.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo rejected other suggestions that the highway should have been closed before the storm. "By the weather reports we had, there was no reason for the roads to be closed," he said in a news conference Monday.

Traffic in both directions east of Exit 57 opened Monday morning.

A combination of abandoned cars and ice under the snow complicated cleanup efforts, state Department of Transportation officials said. Crews used graders and front-end loaders to scrape the hard-packed ice and snow from the pavement -- a slow, labor-intensive process compared with usual snowplowing operations, spokeswoman Jennifer Post said. The amount of snow meant much had to be hauled away in trucks rather than just pushed to the side of the road.

Suffolk police Monday set up a hotline to help drivers locate vehicles abandoned in the storm and later towed.

 

More winter weather

Storm-weary Long Islanders hoping for a break should expect a dry day Tuesday and a mostly sunny afternoon, said Mike Layer, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Upton.

But they shouldn't put those snow boots and shovels away.

Clouds are expected to increase Wednesday as a storm system from the southeast brings precipitation that "could start as rain or even become a mix of rain and more snow" into Thursday morning.

And another storm system is on track to reach Long Island by Saturday night.

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