City Council Committee Holds Hearing On Snowstorm Cleanup

Mar 21, 2017

     In the face of criticism from elected officials and residents, the head of the department of public works in the largest city in western Massachusetts is defending the efforts to clear the streets of snow after last week’s big storm. 

     Springfield Public Works Director Chris Cignoli testified at a city council committee hearing Monday that the city’s main streets were in “excellent condition” and the side streets were in “very, very good condition” 24 hours after the snow stopped falling and a third full round of plowing had been completed.

     " We tried to get the word out that it was going to take us a lot longer to get this stuff off the roads," he said.

     But his assessment was scoffed at by a parade of residents who spoke to the council’s Maintenance and Development Committee.  City Councilor Bud Williams, who is also a State Representative, said the DPW’s response to the storm that dumped more than a foot of heavy, wet snow was inadequate.

   " We just blew it. We just blew it," said Williams.

    Based on a DPW supplied report on the inventory of trucks used in the snowplow operations, Williams said the city is too dependent on light pickup trucks to plow snow.

   " If we had the right equipment, I think we'd do a better job," said Williams.

   The inventory report said 23 city-owned large dump trucks were used for plowing and sanding and 142 private contractors were hired to plow during last week’s storm. Cignoli said a majority of the private plows are three-quarter ton pickup trucks.  

   He said many of the narrow residential streets in Springfield cannot be plowed by large trucks.

  "  There is no way to get a bigger truck down those streets under any circumstance," declared Cignoli.

  Cignoli acknowledged that snow plowing was hampered by the severity of the storm, which saw snowfall rates of 2-4 inches per hour, and a lack of compliance with the city’s snow emergency parking rules, which require alternate side of the street parking.

"We towed 150 cars in the last storm, we could have towed 2,000," said Cignoli.

  The DPW head said it is unfair to compare the post-storm condition of Springfield’s streets with those in neighboring communities because its 1,100 miles of streets are three times more than the next largest municipality in the region.

  The council committee listened to a parade of residents complain about the snow plowing. Minnie Galloway said her street was not cleared of snow until several days after the storm.

   " My taxes went up almost $300. For what?," she complained.

   Jynai McDonald, a resident of the  South End, also said the city’s response to the storm was inadequate.

   " I'm concerned about the seniors like my grandmother and great-aunt who had to go out after the storm," she said.

  During the committee meeting, Donna Carney, director of the city’s 311 call center, urged people to report complaints about unplowed streets, which are then passed on electronically directly to the DPW. She said the reports can be made by phone, through the city’s website, or with a smartphone app.