“Need to get to the doctor,” the Jan. 5 report from a Jordan Street resident read in capital letters, showing the dispatcher’s frustration after fielding hundreds of complaints. Another, from Ocean Harbor Drive, dated Jan. 6, said that an 88-year-old also needed to make a doctor’s appointment. And on Philips Place, a resident reported that their car was stuck in a mound of snow on Jan. 5.
The entries were among the 423 complaints to the Town of Hempstead from Oceansiders on its roughly $1.1 million town-wide snow removal response during and in the week after the Jan. 4 storm that brought blizzard-like conditions to Long Island and the surrounding areas, paralyzing the region.
The nearly 500-page audit and appendices were released on Feb. 20, and detail the town’s snow-removal protocols while attempting to answer the question: What went wrong?
“I’ve been here a lot of years,” said resident Cheryl Pav, whose house sits on the corner of Mott and 4th streets. “. . . This was probably the worst I’ve seen it in a long time.”
In the immediate aftermath, resident Seth Blau told the Herald, “The snow removal was handled very poorly. I don’t remember a time when it was so bad. I’m not even talking about the day of the storm. I’m talking about 7 p.m. Friday night on my way home from work, a full day afterward.”
According to the audit, Oceanside topped the number of snow-removal complaints among the 54 neighborhoods under the town’s jurisdiction, with 423. The runner-up was Levittown, with 285 complaints.
At least some, however, were less critical. Nancy Baxter, whose house is near Illona Lane, by the middle school, said that although some streets took time to be cleared, the plows did eventually return. “I know people complained that the streets weren’t cleared,” Baxter said in a phone interview. “My take is, everyone’s human; you just need patience.”
She added that if someone needed to be somewhere in the days after the storm, it did pose an issue. On her street, her husband’s car became stuck after only the right side of their street was plowed, but she said, “They did come back.”
While the Town Highway Department and its commissioner, Tom Toscano, are in charge of snow removal, the audit said, both the parks and sanitation departments contribute supervision, vehicles and personnel to snow responses.
But the picture painted by the report is that of an uneven response in Oceanside. Using maps — originally created more than 50 years ago — Oceanside is divided into snow-removal zones, or map areas, with a plow assigned to each. The majority of the complaints came from five of Oceanside’s 14 snow areas. Disorganization and a lack of accountability were the main problem areas identified in the report.
Because different departments handle specific sections of various neighborhoods, the distribution of manpower and equipment is uneven across the town. Additionally, dead-end roads and culs de sac — of which there are many in Ocean-side — pose a challenge for snow removal. Due to size, the average dump truck and plow is ill suited to clear those types of roads. The report states that disorganized supervision meant that the specialized equipment required to clear them was not always assigned to the appropriate map area.
Additionally, citing two areas in Oceanside, the audit outlined a lack of accountability for snowplow drivers who do not adequately clear their assigned roads. Through GPS tracking, supervisors at the town’s snow-response headquarters at the Roosevelt Highway Facility can track plow routes, but cannot track the quality of snow removal.
In Oceanside’s map area 10, around the middle school, which received 55 complaints — the highest in the hamlet — a total of 16 snow removal vehicles were tracked moving through the area the day of the storm. Based on that number, the report surmised that “the quality of the plowing effort in this map area is suspect” because the number of complaints seemed excessive.
Heading west to around Wanamaker Street, 53 complaints were logged for map area 12. Using GPS data, the report found that four snow-removal vehicles passed through the area. The report concluded, “The frequency of plowing is likely the issue.”
The report recommended a number of short-term actions to improve the quality of future snow-removal efforts. Among them were establishing a clear line of command to the commissioner of the Highways Department, increased accountability for snowplow drivers and better allocation of equipment according to the unique needs of each map area.
In the long term, the report suggested a complete re-evaluation and update of the maps and map areas used to assign snow plow equipment across the town.
The hope, according to a statement by Supervisor Laura Gillen, who called for the audit less than a week into her tenure, is that the report’s recommendations will help reverse “years of short-sighted consolidation and relocation of town equipment and resources, without concern for the residents or local streets of Oceanside,” she said. “My administration is correcting the errors of the past so that future events are dealt much more swiftly and effectively.”