By 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!)