Snow mixes with politics in Bridgeport, New Haven

Bridgeport -- More than a week after a historic blizzard dumped more than 3 feet of snow in some parts of Connecticut, snow removal is still a political issue.

In Bridgeport, some residents are even calling for Mayor Bill Finch's resignation, starting a Facebook page this week that has more than 120 "likes" and launching an online petition. They say the city took too long to dig them out immediately after the storm, and now, they're dealing with 20-foot-high mountains of snow piled at many intersections by plows.

In New Haven -- which shares Bridgeport's problems of high density, on-street parking, and roads too narrow for giant payloaders, dump trucks and snow plows -- many are also incensed. Mounds of snow have reduced side streets from two lanes to one. Driving through them Wednesday was a cat-and-mouse game for cars approaching from opposite directions.

Officials in both cities responded with shrugs.


Snow piled at a New Haven site reserved for that purpose. (Photos by Dru Nadler)

"You know what? At some point, we do stop plowing, and we do stop removing snow," said Mayor John DeStefano of New Haven.

The storm has already cost the city more than $2 million, DeStefano said. On Monday, with schools ready to be back in session, he decided enough was enough. "We're essentially done except for emergency and safety issues for two days now."

In Bridgeport, removal with payloaders and dump trucks, which involved as many as 50 contractors at some points last week, isn't quite over. Those giant mountains are unsafe for drivers, and the city's emergency management director Scott Appleby said it will likely be at least two weeks before they're completely cleared.

The city faced the heaviest criticism for failing to deploy more plows during the storm itself, and for declaring a snow emergency and parking ban far too late. But Appleby said the storm got out of hand; forecasters originally called for 18 inches, and the city actually got as much as 38. So new workers couldn't get into work to cover second shifts for plows and trucks.

"[For] anywhere from 2 inches to 20 inches of snow, the city's plans were workable," Appleby said. When it became clear there would be much more than that, "at 10:30 at night [on Friday, the day the storm hit], the system stalled."

Appleby said the city learned many important lessons from the storm: Communicate better, with residents as well as weather forecasters. Institute parking bans and emergency declarations more in advance, even if it may seem a little premature.

Cut down on contracting, by far the biggest expense, if at all possible, maybe even by using volunteers or other agencies.


snow 2

A mountain of snow at a Bridgeport intersection created by plows, that will now have to be removed by payloaders and dump trucks.

New Haven's mayor, DeStefano, was less forthcoming with "lessons learned" that can help during another snow emergency.


"I think there are things you can learn, but the things you learn may have nothing to do with the storm you next experience," he said.

Or, the money to implement lessons may not be there. The city could try to lock in contractors in advance at a fixed price to save money, but that usually requires paying something upfront before a storm is even forecast. Bringing in more equipment and staff means hiring more supervisors, which the city can't afford. More outside contractors or National Guard members only go so far when they're not familiar with New Haven's streets in an emergency.

But notifying every resident of a parking ban in time, or plowing every side street that the city threatened to tow cars off of, is simply not possible. DeStefano said the best lesson residents could learn is to temper their expectations.

"It's not perfect. In some places it's not great, or desirable, but it's manageable," he said. "And we learn to manage it."

That was small consolation for those in the Beaver Hills neighborhood of New Haven. On side streets that were never fully plowed, cars have been forced to park illegally for days after the city closed its free lots and garages once the parking ban was lifted.

Chris Betances, a senior at Southern Connecticut State University, said he was almost towed recently, despite having no other option.

"Good thing I was actually walking out to my car. And there was a tow truck literally right next to my car," he said. "I was like, there's no way you're towing my car right now. Where else am I going to park, you know?"

Wednesday morning, he managed to find a legal parking spot by parallel parking between two mounds of snow.


Click here to see more information on this in Neena Satija's blog Rant & Rail.