Environmentalist Says Blizzard Consistent with 'Global Warming' Trend
As snow, slush plagued Boston, it was Florida sun for Menino
The Boston Globe, Feb. 21, 2003
While Bostonians were digging out of the biggest winter storm on record Tuesday, coping with clogged side streets and roofs straining under the weight of snow, Mayor Thomas M. Menino was heading to southern Florida.
On Tuesday, Menino stood outside City Hall in the brittle morning air, urging the public to ''take a look around and see how they can lend a hand'' to fellow Bostonians trudging through 2 feet of snow. Later that day, he boarded a plane for West Palm Beach, where he took a day off to relax with his wife, Angela, before moving on to a US Conference of Mayors meeting in Key West yesterday.
On Wednesday, aides outlined Menino's schedule for the Conference of Mayors meeting, but did not mention that he was already in Florida, on vacation.
Yesterday, Menino acknowledged that he spent Wednesday meeting golf pros at a renowned resort, and later dined at a four-star restaurant. Meanwhile, top aides back in Boston fended off criticism of the city's handling of the storm's aftermath.
Menino said he remained in contact with his aides Wednesday and yesterday to direct plowing operations. And his aides said he put in long hours trouble-shooting the city's efforts to cope with the record snowfall earlier in the week, even spending Monday night on his office couch.
But he left town a day before the city stumbled into a difficult set of circumstances - downtown motorists hemmed in by snowbanks and idled for hours in traffic, and a section of Washington Street closed after the Modern Theatre became unstable beneath the snow.
As the city struggles to restore normal traffic patterns, and while Governor Mitt Romney pleads for federal assistance to remove snow in rural areas, Menino will remain at meetings in Key West until Saturday. Still, Menino insisted yesterday from the Hilton in Key West that his focus remains on the gray, slushy Hub.
''The sun is nice, but my head is back in Boston,'' Menino said in a phone interview. ''You're always concerned when you go away. I'd rather be back in Boston where everything's happening. You know, be in the middle of the action. But I can still get things done up there from here.''
In the absence of Menino, who has made personal management of city services a priority, other city officials worked long hours responding to crises, but traffic was often at a standstill.
Some blamed the problems on a city that was unprepared.
One woman, skeptical of Menino's suggestion on Tuesday that commuters use the MBTA and keep their vehicles off the roads, said even public transportation was fraught with problems.
''Mayor Menino was telling everybody to take public transportation, but they didn't have the resources for everyone to take public transportation,'' said Jackie Ecker of Brookline, who said she waited an hour for the Green Line's D train at the Park Street MBTA station Wednesday.
Yesterday morning Ecker's train was evacuated due to an explosion caused when it struck a low-hanging wire. ''People were really scared and screaming. We were told to get off the train and find alternative transportation,'' she said.
On his day off, Menino and his wife visited the PGA National Resort & Spa, an expanse of golf courses and villas. They walked the links, and ''talked to some guys I know down there. I admired the good golfers who can hit the ball straight because they play so much,'' Menino said. ''Mayors can't do that.''
Back on the clock yesterday, Menino expressed frustration that his absence would provoke doubt about his handling of the emergencies, particularly traffic congestion on Wednesday.
''I called people up and said `Let's get things together.' I got the cops out in the street directing traffic, and we got other things going,'' he said. ''Just because you're not there doesn't mean you're not in contact. I'll defend my performance any day.''
Corey Dade can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Local officials buried in debt after latest storm
The Boston Globe, Feb. 20, 2003
The blizzard that dumped up to 2 feet of snow on the region this week also punched a hole in dwindling snow and ice removal budgets for cities and towns around the region.
From Everett to Newburyport, communities already were at or near deficit spending in snow removal accounts. The storm, which started during the Presidents' Day holiday on Monday, forced communities to pay time-and-a-half to public works crews called in to plow, along with private contractors.
Hefty cleanup costs will likely force cities and towns to dip into reserve accounts, or roll the shortfall into next year's budget, which is allowed by state law. But either option will only further strain cash-strapped communities still reeling from emergency cuts in local aid ordered this month by Governor Mitt Romney, officials said.
''Our snow budget was shattered before this storm hit,'' said Lynn Mayor Edward J. Clancy Jr., who estimated it cost $20,000 per hour to run 220 snow plows during the overnight blizzard. ''Historically, we don't put a lot of money in the budget for it, because it's so hard to predict.
What we put in this year [$500,000] is long gone.''
Clancy said Lynn, the North Shore's largest city, will have to pay for the snow removal deficit in next year's budget.
''We'll just have to build it in. It's the only way we can do it. We can't handle it this year,'' he said.
In Everett, where the city already has spent the $128,000 budgeted for snow removal this year, Mayor David Ragucci said, ''This storm couldn't have come at a worse time for us, financially. We blew our snow budget on it. Last year, we kicked our snow removal budget into [free cash]. And this year, we're spending it all.''
In addition to streets to plow and sand, the blizzard left waist-high snow drifts. Snow totals were heavy around the region, with Topsfield reporting 24 inches, Salem 21 inches, Manchester-by-the-Sea 20.3 inches, Gloucester 17 inches, and Newburyport 16 inches, according to the National Weather Service website.
Although not unexpected, the heavy snowfall likely will force Newburyport to dip into $2.5 million in free cash to offset snow removal expenses, said Mayor Alan Lavender.
''Before this snowstorm, we had spent about $114,000 on snow removal, more than double what we had budgeted,'' said Lavender. ''I have no idea what the cleanup costs for this storm will be, but I don't think the situation is going to be as critical for us as it will be in some other communities.''
In Danvers, where town officials budget every year for seven snowstorms, this year's $431,000 snow removal budget is now running close to a deficit, said Assistant Town Manager Diane Norris.
''We live in New England, so we expect we will get snow,'' Norris said. ''Certainly, the depth of this storm, from a budget perspective, came at the worst possible time. It snowed all night, and on a holiday. All our [town] employees were paid overtime. That made this storm even more
expensive than others.''
Mounting concern over cleanup costs also comes at a time when communities face another messy problem: flooding. Although coastal communities escaped major flooding at high tides during and after the blizzard, a combination of melting and rain could spell trouble, officials said.
With temperatures expected to climb into the 40s today, and a rainstorm predicted for Saturday, flood preparations will continue, officials said. Specifically, residents are asked to make sure catch basins in front of their homes are clear. Catch basins collect runoff from streets, and connect to underground drainage systems. If they're clogged, flooding often results.
''We need to make sure the basins are unplugged,'' said Joe Nerden, assistant city engineer/public works director in Salem. ''We'll have to keep an eye on the tides, too, because if they get high, and the catch basins are clogged, that could spell trouble.''
In Revere, Mayor Thomas Ambrosino predicted his snow removal budget is ''several hundred thousand dollars'' in deficit this year. Still, he said he's grateful Revere escaped major flood damage during its most recent bout with Mother Nature.
''As far as the snow goes, it's just one more deficit to deal with,'' Ambrosino said. ''We can roll it into next year's budget. I'm just thankful that Revere escaped any kind of significant flooding. Snow is a lot, but flooding is always the major concern in this city.''
''We haven't had any problems with flooding - not yet,'' Amesbury Mayor David Hildt said. ''But with significant rain expected on Saturday, we're looking ahead with a concerned eye. Even with last year's drought, our lakes are at capacity.
''With the rain and warmer temperatures, we could be facing some difficult conditions. So, as we clear the streets, we're looking to make sure that the sewer drains are clear of snow.'' In Peabody, where the downtown is prone to flooding, Mayor Michael Bonfanti estimated his snow removal budget is $500,000 out of whack. A combination of melting snow and heavy rains this weekend would be hard to absorb, he said. ''We've already had seven major snowstorms and 26 instances where we have had to plow and sand streets,'' said the first-term mayor. ''It's been a very rough New England winter.''
This story ran on page 1 of the Globe North section on 2/20/2003.