It’s been two weeks since 25 inches of snow were dumped on North Bergen the day after Christmas, but many people are wondering if the township is prepared for another storm.
“This was leading up to be a nothing storm, it looked like we weren’t going to get hit, and suddenly they changed their opinion as we got closer to Christmas,” said Township Administrator Christopher Pianese last week.
The storm ended up costing nearly the town’s entire snow budget for this winter.
Pianese said that the township is one of the few municipalities in the area that has a salt facility with the capability of holding 5,000 tons. When the Dec. 26 storm rolled in, North Bergen had 4,000 tons, of which 3,500 were used. He said that the next day, the salt was replenished at a cost of around $300,000.
“The only difference is that your normal storm, other than a dusting, is 10 inches, and this was 25 inches.” – Chris Pianese
“We have a meeting today [Wednesday] on how to deal with the budget end of it,” he said. “We basically wiped out our snow budget.”
Pianese said that the township also had set aside a $200,000 reserve for snow removal, just in case of such an event.
“We need to find a way to pay,” he said. “We’ve done it in the past and will find a way to deal with it again. If the reserve is wiped out, we’ll look to other categories in the budget to shift money around.”
Pianese said that they have applied to Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in the hopes of getting some assistance.
Preparing for snowstorms
Pianese said that each year, as fall approaches, the departments responsible for snow removal hold a meeting, including the Department of Public Works, Parks and Recreation, and the repair shop.
The township expected to meet on Thursday with the DPW, the Parks Department, the North Bergen E.M.S., and the police to see what went wrong and what can be fixed in the future.
He said that the North Bergen Department of Public Works is responsible for snow removal with their 12 snow plows, while the North Bergen Parks and Recreation employees clear snow from parks and township public properties. Five repair shop employees are on hand in case equipment fails and needs to be fixed. The DPW also deploys salt trucks.
During the summer, new snow removal equipment is ordered, maintained and fixed.
As a snow storm nears, officials, including Mayor Nicholas Sacco, make phone calls constantly to make sure the township’s response is planned, he said.
Department of Public Works Superintendent James Wiley said that during the last snowstorm, a few machines had minor break downs, like windshield wiper problems due to high winds, but two days after the storm, all of the vehicles had been fixed, checked, and ready for the next storm.
He said that most importantly, snow blades are checked, because otherwise snow cannot be plowed efficiently.
Wiley said that he and two other supervisors worked approximately 40 hours during the storm and did not go home until it was “over.”
“I live there when the snow starts,” he said.
Twelve of his employees work 12 hours shifts, alternating with other DPW staff until everything is plowed, he said. This included completely removing snow from certain business districts and “critical corners” including Bergenline Avenue, Broadway, and Bergen Turnpike, which took place on Dec. 29 and Dec. 30.
Pianese said that he was at Town Hall on Dec. 26, as well as at the DPW headquarters.
Cameras, machines aid plows
Wiley said that a North Bergen’s new surveillance camera system helped him utilize his plows effectively. While in the past he would have to send supervisors to see if roads were passable, the police department instead allowed him to view around 50 percent of the town and gave him a good idea of what needed to be done.
Another great help to North Bergen is six specialized plows, called Oshkosh plows, which Wiley said are capable of doing “heavy work,” are used in places like Canada, and are needed due to North Bergen’s steep hills.
“We’re the second hilliest in the country outside of San Francisco, so snow removal is extremely important to the people who live here, and we pride ourselves and what we consider the best snow removal in the state,” said Sacco.
What gets plowed first?
Wiley said that the township had to function under an “emergency operation” for two hours around 2 a.m. on Dec. 27, the worst part of the storm, to make sure that EMS and police were able to get around town.
When this happens there are three routes that get plowed for emergency vehicles. One is 91st Street from Tonnelle Avenue to Kennedy Boulevard, over to Woodcliff Avenue, and down to Bulls Ferry Road. The second is 76th Street from Tonnelle Avenue across from Bergenline Avenue, left to 79th Street, right to J.F.K. Boulevard East, and to Bulls Ferry Road. The third one is Bergen Turnpike.
During the last storm, all township streets were plowed by Dec. 28, Pianese said.
The large amount of snow in the storm made plowing more difficult, especially since drivers who were digging out their cars threw the snow into the street, Pianese said.
“The only difference is that your normal storm, other than a dusting, is 10 inches, and this was 25 inches,” he said.
Another problem was abandoned cars and cars parked in yellow zones, which stopped plows from accessing streets.
He also said that there were some problems dealing with county-owned roads.
“When I cross [Kennedy] Boulevard, I don’t tell my plow drivers to lift up the plow,” he said. “They kept it down, [so] they are plowing that for them at the same time.”
Sacco said, “We will continue our planning in the same way that we have in the last number of the years. We’re always prepared for a storm that gets a lot worse than people think it will.”
What do you think? Do you agree with township officials, in that the level of snow removal is superior to other communities in the state? Visit www.hudsonreporter.com to take our online poll.
Tricia Tirella may be reached at TriciaT@hudsonreporter.com.