How Does Needham Clean up after a Blizzard?
Richard Merson presented to the Board of Selectmen ahead of Wednesday’s storm saying that the "key is public safety."
Much of Tuesday night’s Board of Selectmen meeting was built around Wednesday’s storm, as the first topic was an overview of the town’s Snow & Ice Program for 2011. Richard Merson, Department of Public Works (DPW) director, cited planning, preparation and people to be the basis for 2011’s program.
Having received news of the storm the previous week, Merson and his staff started gathering weather reports twice a day, and began checking the status of the contractors who plow for the town. Hours before a storm begins the DPW prepares the roads by putting down calcium chloride, which prevents the snow from adhering to the cold pavement.
During the early stages of the storm, a snow scout is sent out to assess the road conditions. When the amount starts creeping toward two inches, the foreman begins the process of calling the road crew.
“For an overnight storm like this,” said Merson, “we encourage our staff to go home early, get some rest, get some food.”
The DPW team is one crew, meaning that employees take four to five hour rest breaks, and continue to be on duty until four to six hours after the storm.
During the storm Merson and his team collaborate with the school superintendent and the police. The DPW and the police help the superintendent determine the safety of school being in session.
“You can get them into school, but can you get them out?” is one of the main questions Merson keeps in mind when giving his in input. Also, when plowing 52 miles of the 160 miles of sidewalk in Needham, the DPW works with the police and schools to figure out which areas will provide the safest passage for children on their way to school.
Merson also coordinates efforts to remove snow from the downtown business area, the majority of which is done overnight because it has been found to be the most effective and efficient time.
As for the downtown sidewalks, it is mainly the responsibility of the property owners and merchants to have the paths in front of their establishments cleared. Merson and his team, keeping this in mind, try to make it easier for these establishments.
“We keep snow out a little more, out into the roadway,” he related.
However, it is a balancing act between making sure parking lanes are wide enough and not running into the travel lanes on the roadway, “The key is public safety,” said Merson.
The overview was concluded as Merson reminded everyone to stay off the roadways during heavy snowstorms before adding, "But we deal with whatever the conditions are.”