As published in the Record Journal on Wednesday February 13, 2013
By Andrew Ragali
Wallingford Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. does not believe in hiring outside contractors to help clear snow, but Meriden, Southington and Cheshire are employing several companies.
As a general rule, Dickinson said, the town doesn’t use outside contractors, but equipment has been rented this time around. Dickinson said the town “rented some equipment, including a pay loader that came with an operator.” Another piece of equipment was rented as well, “but our personnel are driving it,” he said.
“We feel we have the adequate manpower to handle our needs. The town has always approached it from that standpoint and it has worked,” Dickinson said.
Meriden is receiving aid from several private contractors and Northeast Utilities.
“We have about 50 percent additional to our normal complement,” City Manager Larry Kendzior said. In an email, Kendzior wrote that in addition to the city’s regular private contractors, equipment and operators from La Rosa Construction, Cariati Developers, Suzio York Hill are on the job, as is a contractor from Norfolk.
“That’s something Wallingford needs to do,” Wallingford Town Councilor John LeTourneau said. LeTourneau said he hopes to bring public safety officials together once everything has settled to “find out what we can do better” after future snowstorms.
Kenzior said Meriden used three pieces of equipment from Yankee Gas on Tuesday. The crew began work on Church Street and moved toward Dove Drive, he said. The aid will be free of charge, said Theresa Gilbert, a spokeswoman for Yankee Gas’ parent company, Northeast Utilities.
About 50 pieces of CL&P and Yankee Gas snow removal equipment, including backhoes, dump trucks and trailers, were deployed, along with more than 40 employees to operate the equipment, on Monday. The effort was coordinated through the state Department of Emergency Management and Homeland Security. Crews were dispatched to Meriden, Hartford and Waterbury first because Northeast Utilities has work locations in those cities, which made sense “from an efficiency standpoint,” Gilbert said.
The company is donating its services as a way to thank municipalities for working hard to make roads passable. Going forward, Gilbert said the state will further assess which municipalities need assistance from the company.
“There’s obviously a great need,” Gilbert said.
Southington Town Manager Garry Brumback estimated that 10 to 15 private contractors were helping to clear areas in town. Combined with town equipment, Brumback said there were over 40 vehicles “still on the road opening stuff up” on Tuesday. Southington secures snow removal contractors every fall by putting the service out to bid.
As in Wallingford, Cheshire officials traditionally don’t bring in outside contractors, Public Works Director George Noewatne said.
“We pretty much do our own snow plowing and clearing,” he said. But similar to the October storm in 2011, the town has decided to hire contractors in order to use their heavy machinery.
“We brought in a couple of private contractors to clear sidewalks and intersections” to improve sightlines for motorists, Noewatne said.
With high snow banks, “safety is a concern for drivers,” he added.
A.J. Waste Systems and Excavation Technologies, both of Cheshire, were hired, Noewatne said.
Snow removal companies are having issues of their own.
Rick Macri Jr., owner of Affordable Home Improvements in Wallingford, said the greatest challenge was getting out of his own driveway, not plowing others’.
“We couldn’t even get to customers,” Macri said, explaining that his street wasn’t plowed until Monday.
While Macri’s company serves both commercial and residential properties in the area, he’s taking it slow so as to not wear out his equipment.
“We’re trying to take it easy, telling customers they have to be patient,” he said, adding that equipment breaks down more quickly in heavy snow. “Slower equipment is better than no equipment.”
Taffy Guest, whose husband, David, runs Total Maintenance in Southington, also said getting to customers was the biggest issue.
“It’s hard to get to customers until town roads are plowed,” she said.
The company does 95 percent of its work in Southington, Guest said, including plowing the Southington Library parking lot for the town.
While people may think private contractors are cleaning up financially, Guest tells a different story. “Storms of this size lose money,” she said. “We don’t make money at all.”
Between fuel costs, which grow because of the extended hours crews are putting in, and the wear and tear on machinery, many contractors won’t profit from this storm, she said.
Dealing with angry residents has also been a problem, Guest said. While some understand why they’ve had such a long wait to get out of their homes, and even bring out coffee or food to crews working on their driveways, “others want to rip you from one end to another,” she said.
“I don’t think the public understands.”