Post-blizzard, city evaluates response

New Haven mayoral candidates have suggested improving the city’s storm response by purchasing more snow-removal equipment.
New Haven mayoral candidates have suggested improving the city’s storm response by purchasing more snow-removal equipment. Photo by Vivienne Jiao Zhang.

Over a week after a historic blizzard left 3 feet of snow blanketing New Haven, officials and residents are left evaluating the adequacy of the city’s response.

While the storm did not cause any long-term infrastructure damage, it cost the city an estimated $2 million over seven days of snow removal. Despite City Hall’s efforts to constantly communicate with people throughout the storm, mayoral candidates raised concerns about confusion regarding parking bans and the order in which different streets were being cleaned.

“As much as the city talked about what efforts it made with legislators and residents, a lot of people felt they weren’t getting information and didn’t know why the snow wasn’t able to be moved,” said State Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield, who is running to replace Mayor John DeStefano Jr. this November. “It’s an event that we have to learn some lessons from.”

Both Holder-Winfield and Ward 10 Alderman and mayoral candidate Justin Elicker FES ’10 SOM ’10 said they believe the city could have done a better job communicating with residents about when and how the parking bans were in place and why the city cleared the roads the way it did.

City Hall spokeswoman Anna Mariotti, however, said the city updated residents at least twice a day during the storm through a number of different channels including media press releases, the city’s website and the city’s Facebook page. Mariotti added that part of the reason behind the lengthy snow-removal process was the number of vehicles that got stuck in the snow, explaining that plows, fire trucks and even National Guard vehicles started getting stuck in the powder early on Saturday morning after the blizzard subsided.

Elicker said that he thinks the city overall did “pretty well” to address a snowstorm of a size that the Elm City had not seen in over a century. Still, he added that the city’s response to the blizzard raises questions of New Haven’s capacity to prepare and deal with storms of such magnitude, and he suggested that the city consider purchasing more equipment in order to handle future storms.

“I think we as a city need to have a dialogue on what the costs and benefits are to purchasing equipment that is able to move this kind of snow, because the equipment that we currently have is different from equipment in other cities that have a lot more snowfall,” Elicker said.

Mariotti, however, said that it is unfeasible for the city to buy new equipment to prepare for rare, severe snowstorms. The city owns three payloaders but used between 30 and 50 during the recent blizzard with the help of contractors.

Elicker and Holder-Winfield said some residents were confused about the order in which the city cleaned streets or felt that their streets were ignored.

“I feel like our streets were generally fairly clean. However, I live in Westville, which I feel like generally has a better response in the city than some of the other neighborhoods,” said Erin Guild, manager of Claire’s Corner Copia on Chapel Street. “For instance, I was driving down Edgewood [Wednesday], and it still only had one lane cleared.”

Mariotti explained that the city has a clear system for snow removal: It first clears areas around hospitals, then the main arterial roads for emergency vehicles and finally all remaining roads. While Elicker suggested that the city publicize the planned order of street cleanings, Mariotti said she thought that this solution would raise questions among residents of why the city cleaned certain streets first.

The blizzard dumped 34 inches of snow on New Haven and left trains in and out of the city closed for three days.

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