Maura In The News

Snow joke

By Eunice Kim / Staff Writer for West Roxbury Transcript
Thursday, December 18, 2003

City vows crackdown on lousy plows

Boston Public Works Department Commissioner Joseph Casazza pledged Monday that changes will be made in the way the city deals with snowstorms and holds private contractors accountable for their performance.

"Were all the contractors ready? No. Am I angry [with] some of the responses? Yes," said Casazza. "Am I doing something about it? Yes."

City officials discussed the city's response to snowstorms at a public hearing at City Hall last week. Casazza, Department Tom Timlin, deputy commissioner of the Boston Transportation, and Public Works Department Superintendent Joseph Canavan, among others, answered questions from city councilors.

"Clearly, the city fell down here. We need a better system," said At-Large City Councilor Maura Hennigan last week. There needs to be a degree of accountability, and penalties have to be imposed, she said. "[Contractors] have to know we have a certain expectations."

Residents complaining about unplowed streets, mostly in West Roxbury and Roslindale, began to inundate the city with calls and e-mails the weekend of Dec. 6 when a storm dumped 26 inches of snow.

Since the storm, many have pointed the finger at Todesca Equipment Co. of Hyde Park, owned by Albert M. Todesca, who was supposed to plow the area.

"The contractors in general did not respond with the amount of equipment necessary," Casazza said last week. He later added, "I'm angry with the situation, and I'm doing what I think I should do with the contractors."

Casazza is taking concerns into consideration and is meeting with contractors and staff. He met with Todesca last week, but did not impose any penalties. Casazza has already put extra crews in West Roxbury, Roslindale and Hyde Park to take the load off the one contractor.

But he said the city should penalize contractors who do not perform. "There has to be a penalty put in which doesn't necessarily exist today," Casazza said.

Currently, the city does not impose any major fines against contractors who fail to meet certain standards. "When they've signed that contract, they've made an obligation to the city. That's it," Casazza said.

The city gives contractors a bonus if they register their equipment year-round, he said. The city pays about $250,000 to contractors citywide. That's all they lose when they don't plow, Casazza said.

He also recommended a cost analysis on global positioning satellite phones. "If it makes things safe ... we should look at it," he said.

Stormy days

Casazza defended the city's slow response to the Dec. 6 and 7 storm. He followed and discussed the forecast with others and heard there was to be a lull in the storm on Saturday until 4 or 5 p.m. He decided not to tire out crews but instead, bring in fresh people to "fight the big fight."

"I didn't misjudge it," Casazza said.

When the lull never came, he said he called in the crews. Despite the problems, Casazza said the snow was cleared in 150 spots to allow bus access.

Canavan added that access was at no point a concern during the storm.

Before last Sunday's storm, the city spent about $3.2 million on snow plowing, Casazza said. After the latest storm, the city's snow budget of $4.5 million pretty much gone, he added.

"Money is not an issue when it comes to public safety, but I have a responsibility, like any other public official, to keep it in the back of my mind," he said.

Casazza stressed that everybody has a role in making the city safe. People must drive safely and not park 20 feet from intersections, he added. "A tremendous number of cars were abandoned in the streets," he said.

Timlin said 124 vehicles citywide were towed during the storm and 7,300 tickets were issued. During snow emergencies, he said people can park in municipal parking lots.

Several city councilors, including Paul Scapicchio, James Kelly and Jerry McDermott, commended the public works department for doing a good job. "We had a huge snowfall last week," Scapicchio said, comparing it to the Blizzard of '78.

But some were serious concerned over the slow response. District 6 City Councilor John Tobin, the sponsor of Monday's hearing, said there were streets in his district that were not plowed. Hennigan said many people got busy signals when they tried to call the city's hotline.

"We need additional lines or other options," she said.

Michael Kineavy, director of the Mayor's Office of Neighborhood Services, said he did not hear that and advised people to keep trying. He also said the city is always open to increasing capacity.

District 5 City Councilor Rob Consalvo, who chairs the committee of City of Neighborhood Services, said dialogue about the issues is beneficial. "We can make sure the problems that happened in the past don't happen again," he said.

Pointing fingers

Todesca faced much criticism following his company's snow-plowing operation during the storm two weekends ago, including from Mayor Thomas Menino. But last week, he blamed residents for slowing his trucks.

"We couldn't get down the streets," he said, adding that he sent out about 100 plows late Friday.

Cars blocked roads and were parked on both sides of the street in many cases, he said. Todesca said the company called the city to tow. But that took longer than normal because of the snow, he said.

In some cases, plows were too big for some streets, Todesca said. When this happened, the street would be skipped and smaller plows sent later. Most of the time.

"Unfortunately, some things slip through the cracks," Todesca said. "Possibly, you miss one once in a while."

It didn't help that people kept shoveling snow into the street. Some roads Todesca plowed himself would end up on a complaint list eight hours later. Puzzled, he would go back to the streets.

"It was all thrown back," Todesca said. "If didn't do it myself, I would say the street wasn't plowed."

Eunice Kim can be reached at [email protected]

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