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After outcry over condition of roads over the holiday weekend, Pittsfield official defends city’s response to Friday’s storm

McKay Street in downtown Pittsfield, Massachusetts days after the December 23rd, 2022 storm.
Josh Landes
McKay Street in downtown Pittsfield, Massachusetts days after the December 23rd, 2022 storm.

Officials in Pittsfield, Massachusetts have been getting an earful from residents about the response to the snowstorm that coated the city in ice and snow Friday heading into the holiday weekend.

City Council President Peter Marchetti told WAMC Tuesday that he saw the torrent of social media posts expressing frustration over slippery, unplowed roads and received dozens of phone calls about the situation. He says he’s reached out to Commissioner of Public Utilities Ricardo Morales to find out more about what went wrong.

“I had a couple of conversations with the commissioner over the holiday weekend," Marchetti told WAMC. "In fact, I told him I was going to submit a petition to get a response as to why and not because I'm not clear enough that the roads were in horrible condition. [I’m] looking for a report from the commissioner of what went wrong, and more so, what are we going to do in the future? I probably fielded 40 calls each day Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, and what's out there is totally unacceptable, and what went wrong, what could we have done different.”

Marchetti has announced a run for mayor in 2023.

WAMC got Morales on the line to discuss how his department handed the storm, and why he thinks Pittsfield did the best job it could.

MORALES: We had a forecast that was showing about half inch of snow starting at 4pm in Friday after about a 24-hour period of rain in the area. That quickly went differently. Between 4 and 6pm, it started shifting to snow. We started getting blizzard-like conditions with three inches of snow per hour. We simply could not keep up with the amount of snow that was falling. We had 12 guys on the street, dealing with the main streets. We had 35 contractors plowing and treating the side streets, the neighborhood streets. And after the storm, after the storm passed, we split our crews into 12-hour shifts, with some contractors assisting with the sanding and salting. The big issue was that this increasing snow accumulation turned quickly into ice with the 40-degree swing in temperature to single digits where salt, rock salt does not work. So, we started switching to calcium chloride that we have and hot mix which is nothing else and some sand for traction and added rock salt to the mix. And traveling during that day, Friday evening into the night, on the day before Christmas Eve, rush hour, it was a little hectic with a lot of people traveling on the road packing the melt down and then freezing. So that's what we were dealing with. We worked our guys through the storm, through the event and after. We have around 780 contractor hours logged in since the start of the snowstorm and about 552 highway person hours working through the storm.

WAMC: It seemed like there was a sharp contrast between Pittsfield’s ability to respond and that of communities around Pittsfield- Often pretty sharply articulated driving between municipality boundaries from say, Lenox or Lanesborough, or again, other communities around Pittsfield. Why was it harder for Pittsfield to respond than it was for other communities in the Berkshires?

I think I will challenge that by just saying that the streets that are in question are streets that were maintained by the state. And as soon as you enter Pittsfield, those streets that are state maintained – which, they use magnesium chloride to pretreat the streets even when it's raining, which we are not able to with regular rock salt or calcium chloride – those streets went fine. But then Pittsfield has to maintain Route 7 in Pittsfield, Route 20, Route 8, Route 9, towards East Street, towards Merrill Road. So, none of the state-maintained streets go through Pittsfield. They stop at the edges, somewhere around the boundary, and then Pittsfield maintains those. And we simply do not have that ability. We don't have the equipment, we don't have the material to pretreat the same way the state does their pretreatment with magnesium chloride.

Do you feel like Pittsfield did the best job it possibly could have to address the condition in the roads?

100%, yes.

I spoke with the President of the Pittsfield City Council, Peter Marchetti, who said he had spoken to you about the situation. It's a situation he described as “totally unacceptable” to me, the condition of the roads over the holiday weekend, and he's talked about bringing forward a petition to get more answers from you about exactly what happened in front of the council when it meets in January. Can you respond to that concept, his description of the situation as “totally unacceptable,” and just in general to a lot of the somewhat harsh criticism the city has received in the last few days?

I think the way we work on our streets is the same way we've been doing it over the last four years, which has worked with no issues. Changing weather conditions and climate change has brought different patterns into our region, and now I think it's time to start looking at making some capital investments to treat our streets in different ways that work in this type of weather, which the state does already. That's where I want to focus our ability, is to increase our arsenal of materials and equipment we have to be able to combat this type of weather. And yes, I will be preparing a report to present to the city council about this storm.

The Pittsfield city council meets next on January 10th.

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