Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXV, No. 5
Wednesday, February 2, 2011
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Weather Forecast

Snow Woes Plague Borough and Township as Season’s Precipitation Poses Challenges

Dilshanie Perera

This winter, the Township Public Works Department has used over 1,200 tons of salt to keep the roads free of ice, and that’s not even including last Wednesday’s snowstorm, which saw 17 inches of precipitation. In the aftermath of the storm, the Borough’s Public Works Department was hauling approximately 100 truckloads of snow per day to the River Road facility to clear the downtown and surrounds.

The sheer volume of snow experienced this season has kept municipal departments busy, and has caused delays, closures, and cancellations around town.

According to Township Police, last Wednesday and Thursday saw a total of 40 vehicles stuck in the snow, and 10 accidents related to the snowstorm. Power outages were reported by PSE&G because of felled trees and wires.

With two delayed openings and two school closures already this winter, Assistant Superintendent Lewis Goldstein acknowledged that “we just have to play the hand we’re dealt,” noting that the last day of school, which was previously scheduled for June 16, is now June 20. “Obviously, we have to wait and see what happens for the rest of the winter,” he added, emphasizing that the safety of students, staff, and community members is of primary importance.

“It just feels relentless,” observed Executive Director Susan Hoskins of the Princeton Senior Resource Center, voicing an oft-cited sentiment about the season’s precipitation. The center has also seen two closures and two delays in December and January. “The needs go up when the weather gets worse,” she noted.

Health Officer David Henry of the Health Department cautioned residents to be careful when walking on ice and snow and not to exert themselves too much when shoveling. Care should be exercised around large tree limbs and power lines, particularly when they are iced over, as weakened limbs could come down. “It seems like we’re running out of space on the roadways,” he said of the rampant snowfall.

“Each storm is different,” acknowledged William Urian, the Borough’s Streets and Roads Foreman in the Department of Public Works. The temperature, and amount of accumulation, can fluctuate between storms and even during storms, requiring quick decision making.

Basic protocol in the Borough includes putting a briny mixture of salt and water onto the roads before a storm, and to begin plowing once snow accumulation is over two inches.

“What a lot of people don’t realize is that after a storm subsides, we have to continue to: A) plow, B) salt, and C) take the plows off of the large dump trucks and start loading them with snow,” Mr. Urian noted.

The Borough’s public works crew is split into two crews of about seven people each during snow emergencies and is supplemented with staff from the Sewer Operating Committee. One crew arrives at midnight and works until 8 a.m. and the other comes in at 8 a.m. and works until the storm passes, sometimes until 8 p.m.

In terms of spaces within the Borough, Mr. Urian noted that Public Works is responsible for plowing Borough Hall, and parks, crosswalks, intersections, and bus stops in the downtown. Municipal garbage cans must be dug out of the snow, and with a forecast of ice and rain, they will begin digging out catch basins, intersections, and fire hydrants.

Mr. Urian emphasized the need for homeowners to shovel the area around fire hydrants on or near their properties, which are important to access quickly in the event of an emergency.

Township Superintendent of Public Works Donald Hansen also emphasized the fact that every storm is different, noting that regardless of the snowfall, the municipality has to deal with 103 miles of roadways and 20 miles of bike paths. “We respond to whatever the conditions are,” he said.

The trouble now, is that “there is just nowhere to put [the snow],” Mr. Hansen added. Unlike the Borough, the Township does not haul snow except from narrower streets like Birch and Leigh Avenues and Race and John Streets.

“Everybody is getting worn out,” Mr. Hansen acknowledged, referring to residents who are tired of the snowfall, and particularly his staff, which has had to deal with the snow almost nonstop this season. “Storms upon storms,” he lamented.

Since the same equipment that is used in the fall to pick up brush and leaves is also used to deal with the snow, breakdowns are common. “We’re losing plows, we’ve lost windshields from trees,” Mr. Hansen said, pointing out that Township mechanics were repairing vehicles as fast as possible, and new parts are purchased as needed. He lauded Township Committee for their responsiveness and for understanding the department’s plight.

While complaints by residents have been minimal, most concerning mailboxes that are knocked down, or snow in the roads. Both Mr. Hansen and Mr. Urian noted that residents and private contractors should not shovel or use snowblowers to push snow out into the street.

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