Blizzard Bombs Boroughs with 28 Inches of Snow
January 1st, 2011
by Erik Weber
ALONG THE TOMS RIVER – Just in time with an answer to all those depressed over not having a white Christmas this year, St. Nick’s old friend Jack Frost arrived late to the party and dumped 28 inches of snow on the region beginning Sunday morning, December 26th, as if overcompensating to make up for his tardiness.
Coupled with wind gusts that reached 50 to 60 mph along the shores of the Toms River and over such wide open areas as sports fields and parking lots, the storm, by the time it ended on Monday, December 27th, produced rolling snow drifts reaching as high as six feet in some places, drowning homes, businesses, snow plows, private motor vehicles, and emergency personnel in a frosty scene fit more for Fargo, North Dakota than the middle Ocean County, New Jersey shore region.
Across our five boroughs, mayors mounted plows alongside public works employees, police and fire companies dug the occasional brazen motorist out of a bad spot, and in at least one borough, garbage and recycling was picked up by Tuesday as if nothing at all had happened.
But don’t take our word for it – turn the pages to read about how each particular borough encountered and responded to the storm (except Island Heights – we didn’t hear back from them at press time and are concerned they may still be buried underneath all that white stuff), and take a look at photographs of what will surely be remembered by area residents in the same way that the Blizzard of 1996 or 1992 Nor’easter recall images of a region changed temporarily by the weather.
Beachwood Roads Cleared Quickly
January 1st, 2011
by Erik Weber
BEACHWOOD – The post-Christmas blizzard that gifted the region with 28 inches of snow and 50 mph winds creating six-foot high drifts could have crippled this borough if not for the forethought and effort of its public works department, according to Beachwood Mayor Ronald W. Jones.
“Routine plowing procedures were compromised by gusting winds,” he said in the days following the storm. “I spoke with [Department of Public Works Assistant Supervisor] Gibby Silva at 2:30 pm Sunday to go over our game plan, [and] within 45 minutes of this call our workers began arriving [at the public works building, located on Beachwood Boulevard].”
As was the case with all snow removal efforts in surrounding municipalities, work continued through the night and into the next day.
“They plowed for about 20 hours and broke off due to fatigue and exhaustion,” the mayor stated. “I traveled through the borough [Monday] and [Tuesday] and believe their work was admirable.”
He noted that while traveling on Route 37 in Toms River near St. Catherine Boulevard and later on Washington Street near Whittier Road, he got stuck in his personal vehicle both times.
“I had no difficulty negotiating through the streets in our borough by using good sense and a reduced speed,” Mayor Jones continued. “Surely we all want our roads to be as perfect as a summer day, but that is an impossibility and a challenge because salt doesn’t melt [ice] below 27 degrees.”
Councilman Gregory Feeney, who is also liaison to the borough public works department, felt they did “a great job.”
“It was an epic storm and our guys were on top of it from the beginning like always,” he said. “They were able to get the roads passable and kept on top of the storm, and more importantly, by Tuesday they were picking up garbage and recyclables while everyone else was trying to dig out.”
The councilman did not know how much the storm had cost the borough in materials and overtime, but said he was expecting to get a full report by the end of this week.
Beachwood Volunteer Fire Company Chief David Petracca, whose tenure in that position was due to end just days following the storm for incoming Chief Dennis Allen, said that they responded to only two calls for service, and that neither were related to the weather.
“It is my opinion that we fared so well during this event due to the fact that it was a light, dry snow, as opposed to a wet, heavy snow,” he said in the days following the storm. “A wet, heavy snow will tend to stick to power lines and trees, thus causing downed wires and tree calls which tend to make up the majority of our call volume when coupled with steady winds and high gusts during an event of this size.”
“Although our services were fortunately not needed during this storm, we were poised and ready to lend any assistance necessary, should the need have presented itself,” the chief added.
Mayor Jones noted that he received a number of text messages to his Blackberry from residents of surrounding municipalities who asked him to contact their mayor in order to “get a plow out for the first time, since they drove through Beachwood and saw our roads were cleared.”
“I [also] received a toss up of calls concerning garbage collection,” he continued. “Some were thankful their Christmas garbage was removed and others desired continued snow removal.”
“Regardless, the snow crews were still in down time anyway, so garbage collection by a smaller unit wouldn’t have affected snow removal,” the mayor added. “My outlook is for a quick return to warmer temperatures, and I encourage residents to continue calling me at 732-415-3713 on issues involving the borough.”
Phone calls and electronic messages left for Beachwood First Aid Captain Joe Hipple and general first aid volunteers regarding their response to the storm were not returned at press time.
Biggs: Town worked to stay ahead of storm
January 1st, 2011
by Erik Weber
ISLAND HEIGHTS – Preparing to receive the post-Christmas storm that showered down 28 inches of snow like an unwanted guest bringing a holiday fruitcake to a family party, Mayor Jim Biggs said that borough workers, here, took steps to mitigate its impact.
“The Office of Emergency Management (OEM) stayed on top of the issue, as did the police department,” he said following this week’s borough council meeting, adding that in the days leading up to its arrival, both departments worked to gather any information they could in order to better prepare for it. “We were able to stay on top of it, and we’re very happy with the people who run OEM because they’re still excited about the opportunities to provide safety for our people, and they’re enthusiastic, well-informed and well-prepared, and so we’re able to be ahead.”
The mayor noted that the county roads that typically run east to west in this borough also helped with the snow removal process as it kept the borough public works employees generally able to clear out the north/south running side streets between the lake and river.
“They were out practically all day and night,” he said. “There’s always complaints, but when you consider the way they went to work and what they were able to accomplish, we felt for those who had legitimate complaints but some were just simply that the snow wasn’t far enough off the road, and that’s something that when you’re trying to stay ahead of the storm you can’t always do.”
While some boroughs on the southern bank of the Toms River faced gale force winds that swept snow and sand off their beaches and onto the adjacent roadways, creating six-foot high snow drifts in some places, Mayor Biggs said that problem did not present itself at the borough waterfront this time around.
“We’re fully bulkheaded, and the prevailing winds were more helpful to us than they may have been to the other communities on the other side of the river,” he said. “That happens from time to time – we’ve had some good windstorms out here where the winds come out of the west, but we’re very fortunate that wasn’t the case and we were able to stay ahead of it.”
In comparing the borough’s River Road to Pine Beach’s Riverside Drive, the mayor noted that a wider corridor also helped in riverfront snow removal.
“[It] gave us more room to put snow in other locations than simply up against the white line or out near the yellow lines, so we were just better off,” he noted.
“We made an honest attempt to make sure all of our streets are open and passable,” Mayor Biggs added, taking a moment to highlight the conditions of streets in neighboring Toms River.
“We’re quite happy in Island Heights with the job that our public works department did in removing snow, and we’re even more grateful for Toms River surrounding us on three sides,” he said. “As I have said to their mayor on a number of occasions, thanks to Toms River, Island Heights looks like a paradise, and next we’re going to plant the palm trees just so we can rub it in a little bit more.”
The next meeting of the Island Heights Borough Council will be on Tuesday, January 18th at 7 pm in borough hall at the Wanamaker Complex on the corner of Van Sant and East End avenues.
Kennedy: Snow Removal Response “A Job Okay Done”
January 1st, 2011
by Erik Weber
OCEAN GATE - In the days and hours leading up to Mother Nature knocking on this community’s door the day after Christmas with over two feet of snow and high winds, Mayor Paul Kennedy said it became clear that it would be one for the record books.
“We knew the storm was coming well before it hit us,” he said at last week’s borough council meeting, adding that in his nearly 30 years as a borough resident, he had never seen it accumulate as fast and heavy as it did during the post-Christmas storm.
“It came worse than the three we had last year,” the mayor continued. “Our borough employees did the best that they could do with what we have and what we are equipped to do.”
Reliance on the county for plowing their roads, which consist of the majority of borough streets, turned sour when it was realized that their response and performance was not as fast or thorough as was expected, he said.
“They have not been the best of friends as far as plowing, for whatever reason,” said Mayor Kennedy, who said that conversations between Ocean County Road Department representatives and Ocean Gate Public Works Supervisor George Althouse became heated after a while.
“The bottom line is, it’s their roads,” he added.
Confusion in the successive chain of command at the borough Office of Emergency Management also caused initial problems when it was learned its two top coordinators were unavailable. Mayor Kennedy said that Police Chief Reece J. Fisher quickly stepped in to address the problem and take over response duties for the borough with the mayor.
“I guess generally speaking, and I use that term loosely, that the public was okay with the way the Ocean County Road Department handled the plowing and the way the municipality handled the plowing and everything else,” he continued, adding that a number of residents contacted him with rumors that certain areas of the town were not getting plowed because they were “troublemakers” to some members of the governing body, while others held expectations to be plowed out so they could buy milk and bread at the store or have their garbage collected during or immediately after the storm dissipated.
“It’s just so inconsiderate – they call my office or house and don’t say who they are because they know we don’t have caller I.D., and they curse and use fowl language,” said Mayor Kennedy. “I don’t know how many George got, but I know his machine was full when I tried to call.”
“Overall, for what we have and are equipped to do, it was a job okay done, and the best we could at this point,” he added. “[Tuesday] night, I went to Toms River to my brother’s house, and the Toms River side roads were worse than ours, and Pine Beach in some places were worse than ours.”
The next meeting of the borough council will be held on Wednesday, January 12th at 7 pm in borough hall on Ocean Gate Avenue. A special first hearing will be held for the Community Development Block Grant program half an hour earlier, at 6:30 pm, in the same location.
Boyle & Sgro: A “Near-Unprecedented” Storm
January 1st, 2011
by Erik Weber
PINE BEACH – How a municipality responds to an emergency weather event often sets the public opinion of its officials, public works employees, and emergency personnel for months and years to come, depending on the magnitude of the storm. By these standards, borough officials here felt that encountering the post-Christmas holiday was a “near-unprecedented” challenge well met but one still open for future study and improvement. The storm triggered a state of emergency after dropping 28 inches of snow and carrying winds of approximately 50 mph that produced nearly six-foot high snow drifts across the roadways and properties of the region.
As the early stages of the winter blast began to drop increasingly heavy amounts of snow on Sunday afternoon, Mayor Christopher Boyle reported that the Department of Public Works had their snow removal vehicles “gassed up and ready to go.” They were sent out by 5 pm to begin the process of clearing the borough roadways, which kept them going “all day and all night long,” fighting the intense snowfall and rolling snowdrifts until at least Tuesday. The mayor and Pine Beach Police Chief John M. Sgro, who is also the Emergency Management Coordinator, were also out in the storm to coordinate and assist in snow removal efforts.
“We definitely had 50 mile-an-hour winds coming off the river, and basically what it did was empty the beaches of snow and a little bit of sand,” Mayor Boyle said. “All the snow on the beaches ended up on Riverside Drive.”
It was during the late morning hours on Monday that emergency vehicles, responding to a carbon monoxide alarm at a private residence that was later rescinded, became stuck on the waterfront roadway in front of the former Admiral Farragut Academy’s Radford Hall building Two private motorists were also caught with the responding vehicles. A fire company engine and one of the private vehicles were able to free themselves of the growing snow drifts early on, but the driver of the Quality Medical Transport ambulance turned the vehicle around to face west, and as a result, became further trapped on a snow bank. The second still-trapped private vehicle was later abandoned by its owner near the corner of Hillside Avenue until snow removal provided a clear path to navigate the vehicle out.
Debra Maddalena, a resident of the borough who was also one of the two medical responders in the ambulance, said that a neighbor had brought them soup at midday as they sat waiting for additional relief. Pine Beach Fire Company President Jay Sonnenfeld stated that other than the alarm call, “we were kinda quiet, listening to everyone else around us [on the radio], but Pine Beach itself was quiet.”
A four-wheel drive front end loader, owned by borough resident Randy Laing was being utilized on a volunteer basis throughout the storm between responding to snow removal calls from his regular clients, according to Mayor Boyle and Chief Sgro.
Mr. Laing would have been able to “come down and break through that block of Riverside Drive so they could get through,” had the ambulance driver not done a k-turn and gotten the vehicle more stuck, said the mayor. The ambulance was reported to have been freed sometime Monday evening.
Chief Sgro commended Mr. Laing for his aid, stating that “had we not had this vehicle, we would have been paralyzed and unable to respond to any calls.”
“If we’re going to have to deal with anything like this in the future, we definitely need a four-wheel drive front end loader or at least have a contract with someone who can provide those services,” added Mayor Boyle, who also thanked Mr. Laing for his help.
The Public Works Department staff was also thanked for their ongoing efforts during the storm.
“They did an outstanding job considering the equipment and manpower that the borough has available,” said Chief Sgro. “That being said, no municipality had adequate equipment or personnel to handle a storm like this – there were many areas where they had to spend some time getting our plow trucks unstuck.”
“It may have taken them some time to clear certain roads, but we fared better than most municipalities around us in getting our roadways opened up and at least passable,” he continued. “I was out with one of our plow drivers during the height of the storm, and if anyone wishes to complain about the way roads were or were not cleared, I would suggest that they try to do the job sometime.”
“There were whiteout conditions, where you could not see past the hood of the truck, and that is an extremely nerve-wracking feeling,” the chief added, stating that “the majority of other complaints that we received were of roads being impassable and people wanting plows.”
Mayor Boyle addressed these complaints in a response letter written Tuesday to an unnamed borough resident, which he shared with the Riverside Signal.
In it, he wrote, “I can assure you that there were few people in town yesterday that were more frustrated than I was at the condition of our streets.”
“The simple fact is: this was an extraordinary, near-unprecedented weather event... the fact that the clearing of Motor Road itself was not consistent with previous snow clearings should serve to demonstrate what we had to deal with,” the mayor continued, noting Motor Road to be a county road, and therefore under control of the county plow crews. “Our men did the very best that they could with equipment that was not quite adequate to deal with these unusual circumstances.”
“Despite the fact that there is always room for improvement, I am very proud of them, and if you have had a chance to observe some of the streets in our neighboring towns and throughout the county, you should be, too,” he added. “On behalf of myself, I can further assure you that I will fight to see that the Public Works Department is provided with the proper equipment to deal with events such as this storm.”
Chief Sgro echoed the mayor’s comments.
“I want to assure all of our residents that their borough officials were on top of this situation and that Mayor Chris Boyle and myself as Chief and Emergency Management Coordinator were out during this storm to coordinate and assist in the snow removal efforts,” he wrote earlier this week. “The mayor and council have already met after the storm and we have had discussions on ways that we could improve our efforts. I think we all believe that no matter how well we do, there is always room for improvement.”