Blizzard of praise in storm's aftermath: sidewalks now priority
Roads are clear and memories of the Blizzard of 2013 are melting at about the same speed as the snow, which for some is not fast enough.
With schools re-opened, attention is now being focused on the safety of children and pedestrians with the clearing of sidewalks in the vicinity of schools and housing complexes. Police started issuing “safety alert notices” to property owners – including Warwick schools – to clear sidewalks Tuesday and were following up with summons yesterday.
Meanwhile, there was no letup for Department of Public Works crews who were at work Tuesday clearing sidewalks and continued the effort yesterday.
But it was also an occasion to recognize the extraordinary efforts on the part of so many city personnel during the storm and immediately afterward.
“Their job demands them to leave their families and to come to work. If it wasn’t for them, we couldn’t get on the roads,” Jean Bouchard, president of municipal workers, said early yesterday morning. Bouchard was one of more than 150 city and school workers, who all had a hand in battling the blizzard, gathered at Thayer Arena for words of thanks from Mayor Scott Avedisian, DPW acting director David Picozzi, Fire Chief Edmund Armstrong and council members Donna Travis and Steve Colantuono.
Picozzi praised workers for doing “a great job,” observing, without naming names, that Warwick is far better off than many other communities. He also said the Public Works Department has “its critics,” but he didn’t see them out in the storm.
“Some had to leave families at home without heat,” he said of workers. “These are the things the public doesn’t see.”
And although Warwick streets were open when those in other municipalities were not, City Hall received about 40 calls Tuesday.
Not all of the calls are complaints, either.
“One woman called just to say ‘what a great job,’” said receptionist Betty Smith. Melissa Coutcher, who handles many of the complaints, recalled how a nurse, who doesn’t live in the city, simply called to report that compared to other municipalities, “Warwick roads are terrific.”
Between the two of them, there were five calls praising the work of Warwick crews. Then there were the others.
Coutcher said one caller complained schools had re-opened and voiced the opinion that they should remain closed until roadways were widened and sidewalks cleared.
“Then what?” asked Coutcher. “They would be complaining because the schools would still be open in July.”
Another caller demanded shortly after the storm that City Park be plowed because he and his dog needed the exercise. “People are stuck in their homes and they need recreation,” was the logic.
Complaints aren’t limited to calls. There were emails, some including pictures like that of a mailbox a couple of feet away from a plowed street. The sender wanted the snow cleared up to the mailbox.
“People haven’t seen a storm like this in 10 years,” said Coutcher. “They forget.”
Not all complaints are outlandish.
Sidewalks, especially in the vicinity of schools, are a concern.
“It’s a difficult balancing act,” said Lt. Michael Gilbert yesterday. He noted that even though many property owners have sought to clear walks, city and state crews, in an effort to widen roads, have pushed snow back on them. Then there are issues of who is responsible. Schools clear school parking lots, but in many areas, the sidewalks are traditionally cleared by the city.
As of Tuesday, Gilbert said the department had identified 13 priority locations near schools and housing complexes.
Summons that carry a fine of $100 a day were being issued in instances where either the walks have not been cleared or there has been no effort to do so, he said.
The City Council also took note of the work done by city workers. At Monday’s meeting, Council President Donna Travis said, “I was in constant contact with them and they kept me updated with all the information.”
Ward 5 Councilman Ed Ladouceur agreed. For him, this was his first blizzard as a council member. Nevertheless, he braved the storm and worked alongside city workers to ensure the safety of the public.
“I was baptized under fire, if you will, during this recent blizzard, and I’ve seen firsthand what teamwork can do,” he said. “My accolades and compliments to Mr. Picozzi and his team at DPW, and the police department. We actually had a truck on fire in my neighborhood and the fire department responded and took care of that in short order.”
He named employees, as well as staffers from both tree and line services, who did a “phenomenal job with great cooperation.” Based on conversations he’s had of late, he said constituents living in other Rhode Island municipalities weren’t as satisfied with city services in comparison to Warwick residents.
“I appreciate everything they’ve done for Ward 5, and throughout the city,” Ladouceur said.
Ward 4 Councilman Joseph Solomon, who described the storm as a “difficult battle,” echoed Ladouceur’s sentiments. He also tipped his hat to Ladouceur, plus Ward 7 Councilman Charles “C.J.” Donovan and Ward 8 Councilman Joseph Gallucci for toughing it out in the storm.
“I’d like to thank some of my colleagues, especially the freshman colleagues I ran into out there,” said Solomon. “It says something when a councilperson gets out there in a storm to address immediate concerns of constituents. That’s true devotion to the job.”
He went on to say unsung heroes, such as neighbors and friends who assisted others in need, also deserve applause.
“At times such as this, we really can appreciate the camaraderie that exists in the city of Warwick,” Solomon said. “It brings out a lot of good in people that we sometimes overlook. Although it was a difficult storm, it was great to see neighbors helping neighbors. Everyone here deserves accolades. I can’t say it enough.”
But Solomon, along with his son, was also out in the storm with his plow, as was Gallucci. He, too, witnessed everyone’s collaborative effort.
“We have to remember that our responsibility on the council goes a long way to the public safety and welfare of the city,” he said. “I think we did an outstanding job and all people involved should be commended.”