Snow storm piles costs on township

The weekend storm that dumped 18 inches of snow on the township cost the township $30,800 in overtime and materials – more than half of the snow removal budget.

By:Lea Kahn Staff Writer
   The weekend storm that dumped 18 inches of snow on Lawrence cost the township $30,800 in overtime and materials, putting a dent in the $54,000 set aside for the snow removal.
   The 300 tons of road salt cost $13,500, said Gregory Whitehead, the director of the township Public Works Department. The department also used 1,500 gallons of brine that was applied to the road surfaces to form a bond to prevent ice from forming, he said.
   Because the storm occurred on the weekend, the Public Works crews were paid $17,300 in overtime, according to Municipal Manager Richard Krawczun.
   At the snowstorm’s peak early Sunday morning, there were 21 snowplows on the road and two mechanics at the department’s headquarters to handle the usual mechanical problems, Mr. Whitehead said.
   The snowstorm also closed the township public schools Monday — the second snow day of the 2005-06 school year, said Interim Superintendent of Schools Thomas Butler. The calendar includes three snow days.
   Township police and tow truck drivers were kept busy, responding to reports of cars that slid off the road or became stuck in the snow — including a township patrol car that was stuck in the snow on Tulane Avenue, according to Chief of Police Daniel Posluszny.
   Police responded to 17 accidents, mostly of the fender-bender variety, and 30 calls for help from drivers whose cars became disabled — either because of the snow or for mechanical problems — between Saturday and Monday, Chief Posluszny said.
   About half of the calls for disabled cars required the services of a tow truck, Chief Posluszny said. In other instances, the drivers were able to free their cars from the snow and they were gone by the time police arrived, he said.
   Monday afternoon, police officers were sent out to check on whether sidewalks had been cleared of snow, he said. Property owners must clear the sidewalks within 24 hours after the snow stops falling, he said.
   About a dozen property owners were advised to clear their sidewalks of snow Monday afternoon, the police chief said. When police checked on those properties Monday evening, officers found that one business — the Lawrence Shopping Center — and one resident on Allen Lane had not complied and summonses were issued. The penalty is $83 for the first offense and $133 for a second offense.
   The snow began falling around midafternoon Saturday, but due to warm road surfaces, the snow did not begin to accumulate until around 9 p.m., Mr. Whitehead said.
   Two dump trucks were dispatched to begin applying road salt to the streets around 9:30 p.m., he said. Gradually, more trucks were sent out on the road. By 3:45 a.m., 14 snowplows had been sent out to clear the streets.
   As the snow moved out of the area and the streets were cleared, some crews were sent home Sunday evening, Mr. Whitehead said. The last snowplow was sent home at midnight. Five hours later, 13 snowplows were called back to duty and the crews worked until midafternoon Monday, he said.
   The snowplows initially concentrated on the main thoroughfares, such as Princeton Pike, Darrah Lane and Texas Avenue, he said. When those streets were plowed, the crews began attacking the side streets and finally, the cul-de-sacs in the newer housing developments.
   "Obviously, with 18 inches of snow, it’s a very time-consuming process to get to all of the developments," Mr. Whitehead said.
   Monday was spent plowing more snow out of the intersections and applying more road salt to the streets, he said. Tuesday was spent clearing the parking lots and sidewalks at the municipal parks. The crews were sent out to clear the storm drains Wednesday to accommodate the melting snow, he added.
   Dr. Butler, the interim superintendent, said that deciding whether to call off school because of snow is an agonizing decision for a superintendent. The priority is the students’ safety — those who walk to school and those who ride the bus to school, he said.
   "Can we safely get the students to school? Are the sidewalks clear? Can the buses navigate the roads and pick up children?" Dr. Butler said. "Secondary (consideration) is whether we can get the parking lots clear (for staffers to park). The third consideration is road conditions, because staff comes from a good distance away."
   The decision to close school Monday was an easy one, because of the predictions of six to 12 inches of snow, he said. Nevertheless, closing school is not a decision that is made lightly, he said. It creates a hardship for parents who work and who must make child-care arrangements, he added.