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Pittsfield Councilors Questions City's Snow Fighting Strategies

Jim Levulis

Concerns and complaints over road conditions following a winter storm over Presidents Day weekend came to head at Tuesday night’s Pittsfield City Council meeting.“This isn’t about beating anybody over what happened because what happened, happened and there’s nothing we can do about it,” Clairmont said. “For me it’s about going forward and what are we going to do differently.”

Barry Clairmont is one of three Pittsfield city councilors who filed petitionsrequesting that members of Mayor Dan Bianchi’s administration answer for what many have described as hazardous road conditions in the days following a February 14th storm. Nine of the 11 councilors added their voices to the two-hour long questioning. Highway superintendent Kevin Swail says the protocol has stayed the same throughout the winter.

“We’ll get out and we’ll plow and then when the storm is over we’ll treat,” Swail said. “That was our protocol for that storm and the last storm we just received.”

Swail was joined by Bianchi and Public Services Commissioner Bruce Collingwood in answering questions. Collingwood says roads remained icy because the rock salt that was used was not effective in temperatures that remained around zero. When questioned by Councilor Nick Caccamo, Swail says treated or Magic Salt that can work at those temperatures was conserved after orders for more did not come in.

“I had enough material – every street could have been bare in the city,” Swail said. “But that would’ve wiped me out and they were calling for another event on the 17th with about the same amount of snowfall. I can’t justify burning everything through one event and then not have anything left for the next two or three.”

Swail says the city started with 2,500 tons of treated salt at the start of the year, which dropped down to about 600 tons before the mid-February storm. He says it was used earlier in the year after normal rock salt supply ran low and orders for more from the Port of Albany were also delayed because of high demand around the Northeast. Now the city has about 300 tons of treated salt. Regular salt costs about $74 a ton, the treated around $92. Swail says about 1,500 tons of salt can be used during a storm event and between its storage sheds the city can keep 3,000 tons if packed to the rafters.

“Give me a couple more storage sheds and I’ll fill them up,” said Swail.

Councilor John Krol says the city should look at more storage capacity. Council Vice President Christopher Connell suggested requiring the city’s contracted plowers to have sanding capabilities.

“The people that don’t have the sanding capabilities from the private contractors – that means we have to send our own trucks to sand,” Connell said. “So we’re actually doing it twice.”

Collingwood says a minimal amount of the roughly 30 contractors have the capability. He says contractors get $70 an hour to plow, about $90 for those with sanders. Wary of the idea, Mayor Bianchi says the city could poll what he called a limited pool of contractors to see if they would stick with the city if there was a sanding requirement.

“If you make it a requirement that now they have to invest in a sand system you’re going to reduce that pool even further,” said Bianchi.

Bianchi says Pittsfield is already hundreds of thousands of dollars over its winter budget.

“You don’t budget and you don’t plan for a once-in-a-50-year event,” said Bianchi.

Jim is WAMC’s Associate News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org
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