Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine has developed a multiple-point plan he intends to share with the next highway department superintendent to improve the Town's response to massive snowstorms such as the blizzard that buried Long Island under nearly three feet of snow.
Calling a press conference at the Mastic Community Center on Wednesday, Romaine essentially pinned the problem on a number of factors: the unexpected size and early arrival of the storm, the lack of heavy-duty equipment needed to move the amount of snow that fell, and the prohibitive insurance requirements for private contractors to help out with plowing the Town's nearly 2,600 miles of roadway.
"If the last six months have taught us anything, from the impact of Hurricane Sandy in late October to the recent winter storm of this month, it is that no weather-related calamity can be dismissed," Romaine said. "And anything...truly anything can happen, and the Town of Brookhaven must constantly refine its plan that goes beyond past calculation, and can effectively deal with the problem that these storms create."
Romaine was flanked during the conference by Deputy Supervisor Dan Panico, Patchogue Village Mayor Paul Pontieri, Mastic Beach Mayor Bill Biondi, and newly elected State Assemblyman Ed Hennessey. Romaine added that he has been on a "fact-finding mission" and met with the highway department and fire district officials last week to assess prevention methods. Among the recommendations Romaine presented at the conference are:
- Raise the spending cap on equipment expenditures. Currently New York State only allows municipalities to spend $1 million per year on new equipment. According to Romaine, a bill has been in Albany since 2001 that would increase that spending cap to $2.6 million so the Town could purchase heavier, more effective snow removal equipment, including payloaders. The bill has passed every year in the Senate, but failed in the Assembly, according to Romaine.
- Reduce insurance requirements for private snow contractors. According to Romaine the Town of Islip does not have such prohibitive insurance requirements and consequently, many private contractors took their plows and expertise to Islip.
- Raising the pay-rates for heavy equipment operators and contractors. "One of the things that we discovered during the storm is that surrounding towns pay out higher rates to heavy equipment," Romaine said. "[Removal] could not be done with just a pickup truck and plow, we needed some of the heavy equipment and we found out that our rates were not competitive with other towns."
- Issue an RFP for equipment study. Romaine wants to introduce a board resolution to issue an RFP to have the Town's equipment evaluated. The winner of the RFP bid would be charged with submitting a report that would inventory existing equipment, what additional equipment is needed, what equipment needs to be replaced and develop a 5-year capital program to financially accomplish an updated system.
- Require private snow contractors to have a GPS system. A transponder or GPS-related smartphone would allow the Town to track private contractors' progress. When asked if he was suggesting that private plowers were not fulfilling their obligations during the storm, Romaine stated he was not suggesting that, but rather that the GPS system would help the Town assess specific problem areas.
- Work with Albany for future legislation that would help with snow removal and storm preparedness.
Romaine said he intends to place these recommendations in a letter to the board and will await the outcome of the March 5 highway superintendent race between Kathleen Walsh and Dan Losquadro before he officially presents the recommendations for their feedback.