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Officials: Storm's timing was good for clearing roads

A snowplow makes its way down Sunrise Highway

A snowplow makes its way down Sunrise Highway in Islip. (Dec. 20, 2009) Credit: James Carbone

The winter storm that walloped Long Island this weekend couldn't have come at a better time for the towns and counties charged with clearing snow from the roads, officials said Sunday.

The weekend storm allowed snow removal crews to leave for last commuter parking lots, train stations, and areas around courthouses and some county buildings.

"We lucked out in the timing," said Ray Ribeiro, Nassau's public works commissioner. "If we were doing this as part of a regular morning commute, it would have been 10 times more difficult."

But the storm falling on the weekend also meant the hundreds of municipal employees working islandwide will all be paid overtime for their efforts.

Ribeiro estimated his department's overtime bill at $150,000 and growing Sunday afternoon. Suffolk County spokesman Dan Aug said his county's overtime bill would fall between $800,000 and $1 million, though he said County Executive Steve Levy would seek federal reimbursement for the storm.

Several town officials predicted the storm would end up costing well into the six figures, but said the funds would be easily absorbed in 2009 storm budgets that had yet to be tapped.

Huntington Town spokesman A.J. Carter said the storm would cost between $500,000 and $600,000, well within the $1 million in the town's 2009 snow removal budget, which he said had barely been touched.

Crews worked from early Saturday morning, when trucks from Nassau, Suffolk and the Island's 10 towns began laying salt and sand on the roads, until Sunday night, when parking lots at courthouses and train stations were cleared.

Richard Baker, Islip's acting public works supervisor, said the town had more than 264 vehicles with plows on the roads, along with 151 plows from private contractors. Brookhaven had more than 500 plows on town roads, Highway Superintendent John Rouse said.

Rouse's men, he said, were unsung heroes pushing through the long hours on a mix of "pride and caffeine."

While the storm was a challenge for all the Island's public works departments, on the East End, where the snow was heaviest, it was a much tougher fight.

Southold Highway Superintendent Peter Harris said the storm was the worst since the blizzard of 1978.

"It wasn't a pleasure for the guys to be out there," said Harris, who said he had 30 plows working through the night. As it did elsewhere, drifting snow made it necessary to plow some roads more than once.

Harris said the storm could cost the town up to $20,000.

"Luckily, I do have some funds I kind of sat on in case we did have a snowstorm before the end of the year," Harris said, "but I certainly wasn't expecting to get 24 inches."

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