PITTSFIELD — A snow and ice response plan prompted by problems with street clearing during the brutal winter last year was presented to the City Council on Tuesday — ironically amid a mild winter with the outside temperature near 40 degrees.
At Mayor Linda M. Tyer's request, city Commissioner of Public Services David Turocy prepared a detailed plan, which he and highway Superintendent Daniel Ostrander outlined for councilors and fielded questions.
The plan describes the city's streets (totaling 208 miles); the department's approach to snow or ice events and the typical responses in terms of personnel, equipment and sand and salt.
Councilors asked questions about responses to complaints, ticketing and towing vehicles illegally parked during a snow event, and about current supplies of sand and salt, which became an issue during severe cold and snowy weather last winter.
Councilors Kathleen Amuso and Kevin Morandi noted a number of constituent calls complaining of trucks plowing streets with no snow on them.
"There was nothing on the streets, and they still kept the plows down," Amuso said, adding that the complaints were the opposite of those she heard a year ago.
Amuso said her concern over that and other issues that come up is whether there is effective communication between plow drivers, particularly with the more than 30 private contractors who work for the city during storms.
Turocy said crews wanted to make sure to respond effectively during this season's first snowfall, which was not as heavy as first forecast. In some cases, he said, drivers might have kept plows down while moving from one patch of snow to another.
Councilor Anthony Simonelli said "99 percent" of the complaints he hears are from areas with private contractors plowing. He asked whether they receive training on their routes, including driving the actual streets beforehand.
Turocy said new contractors typically are given a map of the area to be plowed, but he said a dry run of the section is a good idea. The commissioner said that most of the contractors hired have worked for the city in the past but a few each season are new.
He said some are moved to more difficult or less difficult areas based on experience and their vehicles, and some have been let go based on their performance.
In general, Turocy said, the city's plow vehicles work in the core 77-mile section of six main plow routes, while contractors cover side streets. When complaints about plowing are received, it is normally a city truck that will respond, he said, often because most contractors lack the capacity to spread salt or sand.
Simonelli and other councilors asked about the policy for towing parked vehicles that hinder plowing, saying there have been complaints about vehicles remaining in the same spot even after a storm.
Police Chief Michael Wynn responded to that, saying police can issue a ticket for illegal parking or call for a tow truck. If it appears nothing has been done about a complaint, he said, a ticket actually may have been issued.
Deciding to have a vehicle towed can be difficult decision, he said, because it involves having enough police personnel available during a storm. But the chief added that if a councilor or resident believes a parked vehicle has been ignored they should contact PPD directly.
Normally, police would normally ticket a vehicle and only order a tow during a storm if it is creating a problem for crews or a safety hazard.
Turocy said about 32 city employees and the contractors work to clear 208 miles or streets, lots at 20 schools or other buildings, five parking lots, two parking garages and other areas, such as in parks.
He said responses to a storm vary with the temperature and the amounts of snow expected, changing when it is an inch or less; from 1 to 3 inches; 3 to 8 inches, and more than 8 inches, considered blizzard conditions.
Laying down road salt, mixed salt and sand or sand alone, depending on temperature, is a key first response, Turocy said, adding that those decisions have to be made on the spot depending on conditions.
The entire snow and ice response plan is posted on the city's website, at www.cityofpittsfield.org/city_hall/public_services/city_hall/highway_division.php. It provides maps of the plowing routes and other details and information.