Towns will tap into state aid to deal with unrelenting snow storms

By Janice Steinhagen - Staff Writer
Region - posted Tue., Feb. 18, 2014
Drivers navigate a snowy stretch of Route 138 at the Voluntown-Griswold line during the Feb. 15 storm. Photo by Janice Steinhagen.
Drivers navigate a snowy stretch of Route 138 at the Voluntown-Griswold line during the Feb. 15 storm. Photo by Janice Steinhagen.

Gov. Dannel Malloy offered a Valentine’s Day gift to municipalities struggling to keep roads passable despite repeated snow storms. The storm relief package, prepared by the state’s Department of Transportation, allows towns to tap into the state’s DOT supply of road salt as a stopgap measure.

The governor also formally requested a federal disaster declaration for the state from President Barack Obama. Such a declaration could provide additional relief funds for towns that are dealing with an acute shortage of road salt.

The sheer number of snow storms that the region has endured this winter – 13 in all, at press time – has maxed out many town budgets. Griswold First Selectman Kevin Skulczyck said on the day of the governor’s announcement that the town had just enough money in the snow removal budget to deal with one more storm. That storm promptly hit the region on Saturday, Feb. 15, dumping another 6 inches atop the existing snow base.

As of Friday, 22 of the state’s 167 municipalities had requested assistance from the state through the new program, by which the DOT’s surplus would be deferred to the municipalities. Another 88 towns already have contracts for salt through the state’s supplier, International Salt. Ironically, however, the previous snowstorm on Feb. 13 delayed the delivery of the salt into the Port of New Haven, according to the governor’s office.

Skulczyck said that Griswold has requested inclusion in the state’s assistance plan, and that he planned to meet with state officials this week to hammer out details. “If we can take advantage of these opportunities, then we will do so,” he said. “We got hit with a whopper of a winter.” The town has been dipping into its contingency fund to provide overtime pay to road crew members, as well as to pay for road salt, he said.

Griswold town officials will sit down later this month to work out a long-term plan for snow removal in future storms, with an eye to cutting labor costs for removal of giant snow piles, said Skulczyck.

In Norwich, Director of Public Works Barry Ellison said that snow removal costs come from the city’s general line item for storm and natural disaster mitigation, including overtime pay for public works employees. Similarly, road salt comes from a line item for material supplies, which also includes asphalt, drainage materials and similar road maintenance supplies, he said. Neither fund is yet maxed out, he said.

“We’re not over budget for the entire department, but we've spent more this year on snoew than we would in a typical winter,” Ellison said Feb. 17, the day before yet another wave of snow was expected. “We’re going to plow tomorrow. If it snows next week, we’ll plow next week.”

Work crews would be removing accumulated snow banks in the city starting on Wednesday, Ellison said. The job would be done during regular working hours of 6 a.m. through 2 p.m. to avoid the cost of overtime pay, he said. “Typically we would consider doing it very early in the morning,” he said. Three or four crews using large tractors, industrial-strength snow blowers and backhoes would begin work clearing away piles of snow in downtown Norwich, gradually working out toward Greeneville and Taftville, he explained. “We’re hoping the 40- to 50-degree temperatures will help,” he said.

Norwich already has a contract with International Salt, the state DOT provider, said Ellison. Under the contract, the price is locked in and the company is obliged to provide a specified quantity of salt throughout the season. “We have enough for three storms or so. We’re not in danger of running out,” he said.

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