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Schenectady Residents Seek Improved Storm Response

Schenectady City Hall
Lucas Willard
Schenectady City Hall

A week after a massive storm dumped up to two feet of snow in some areas, Schenectady residents are asking the city to be better prepared for the next storm.

A half-dozen city residents appeared before the Schenectady city council Monday night, and they all had the same thing on their minds.

“We need some kind of structure for this snow!”

“Monday the storm came in, no plow. Tuesday, no plow. Wednesday night, I saw a plow, they cleared my road. Three days I could not get out of my driveway.”

“You need more CDL drivers for, maybe, it’s just a particular amount of the season during the winter. You need these drivers.”

“We have a problem, you guys. We have a serious problem. Not only in the communities that are not in the downtown, but downtown.”

Mayor Gary McCarthy acknowledged that while there was some “inconvenience initially,” he believes the city’s response was “fairly good.” He compared last week’s response to the prolonged cleanup associated with major storms in 2007 and 1993.

McCarthy, a recently re-elected Democrat, declared a State of Emergency last Monday, which allowed the state to provide resources. McCarthy told WAMC he has never called a Snow Emergency, a separate declaration.

“Appreciate what the governor did to make resources available to us, but again, the Snow Emergency, I don’t find works well within what we have in terms of staffing and what the actual problem is,” said McCarthy.

The mayor says the biggest issue is not plowing, but snow removal. He pointed to a shortage of CDL drivers available for snow cleanup due to state time limits.

“There’s time limits that you can use for CDL drivers to operate the heavy equipment we need to either do the plowing or snow removal. We’ve maxed out those people, you got to give them some time off,” said McCarthy.

City Councilor Leesa Perazzo, a fellow Democrat, at Monday night’s meeting attributed CDL-licensed drivers refusing overtime to city-wide low morale.

“We have to figure it out, we have a massive morale issue,” said Perazzo.

Democratic Councilor Marion Porterfield says some residents were not properly notified before their cars were towed to make room for plows.

“People’s cars got towed that did not...they were not told that they needed to move their car, but when they came downstairs, then their car was being towed without any notice,” said Porterfield.

Outgoing Independent City Councilor Vince Riggi on Monday called the cleanup on the secondary streets a “disaster.” He echoed other councilors’ calls for a better city plan in event of a snowstorm. He also wondered if there was a lack of city equipment to remove hard-packed snow. 

“We’re buying pickup trucks? I think it’s a total waste of money to try to plow our streets with pickup trucks,” said Riggi.

A day later, City Councilor Karen Zalewski-Wildzunas acknowledged the complaints from residents.

“Were we prepared as well as we should have been? Probably not. But it was an unusual event to have it snow for over 36 hours,” said Zalewski-Wildzunas.

The Democrat said she wants to see the city discuss a new parking policy that would let plows traverse side streets more easily.

“My recommendation is going to be to have some sort of a system in place where when we have 3 inches of snow, you’re going to go to the odd side for the first 24 hours, the even side for the next 24 hours,” said Zalewski-Wildzunas.

A similar proposal came from Councilor John Polimeni at Monday’s meeting.

Mayor McCarthy said he appreciated city residents’ patience during the storm.

“And again, want to reassure them that we’re going to do the best job whatever may happen the rest of the winter,” said McCarthy.

Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.