Mayor Ted Bettencourt got an up close and personal view of the job of city plow truck drivers this past weekend -- he spents several of the worst hours of the blizzard riding along in the cabs of city plows.
"It was a long, hectic weekend," said Bettencourt Monday afternoon, adding he has even more respect now for the city's plow operators and the jobs they do. "It was great to see them in action."
"Overall I am very happy with the job that we did on city streets," he said, giving great credit to the city workers and private contractors, who faced some extreme conditions throughout the worst of the storm -- Friday night into early Saturday morning.
From near the start of the storm, the city called in the full complement of 100 or so private contractors to assist the city's fleet of 30 vehicles. Bettencourt said everyone was putting in 24-hour shifts, followed only by a brief rest at home for a few hours and then were back at it again.
And except for a few city trucks catching on fire, Peabody escaped largely unscathed by the blizzard, which dumped 28.5 inches of snow on the city. There were no flooding problems, major power outages or other emergencies to deal with other than trying to keep the roads clear.
School was canceled Friday and Monday, but will be back in session Tuesday morning.
Bettencourt said the first priority for plow crews was to clear major roadways. The schools were still a top priority, he said, but the timing of the storm was fortuitous and crews had the weekend to get the schools clear.
The North Shore largely avoided the heavy, wet snow that could have led to structural issues with rooftops, although rain did arrive on Monday and that was another concern that led to calling off school for the day, Bettencourt said.
In addition to sidewalks, crosswalks and bus stops along the major routes to the city's schools, each school building roof was inspected first and shoveled off to get ready for Tuesday.
In regard to the roads, Bettencourt acknowledges there were some "problem areas that are still being worked on," along with sidewalks.
Those areas include neighborhoods in the East End of the city and around Higgins Middle School, he said -- congested areas with multi-family homes and multiple cars per family on narrow, tight streets, which all make it difficult to maneuver in without the snow.
Those areas are also the ones mainly affected whenever the city's emergency parking ban is declared. Bettencourt said that's why he allowed parking Friday night at the Higgins and Carroll and Welch schools, to give those residents an alternative parking option and keep the roads as clear as possible.
"Today we have several pieces of equipment working on citizen concern areas, along with salter/sanders applying material to roadways where needed," said Public Services Director Bob Langley via email Monday afternoon.
"Crews are finishing up at the high school and will be further working on school route sidewalks and city-owned parking lots. The parking ban will be in effect at least overnight tonight and we will evaluate the need for further ban tomorrow," Langley said.
"It's still a work in progress and needs to be tweaked," Bettencourt said in regard to the ban, but feels overall it has been very successful.
During this storm, only 10 cars were towed while police handed out 25 tickets for violation of the parking ban, according to Langley, and those only occurred well into the day on Friday.
The ban first went into effect at 8 a.m. that day and was still in place Monday night. Bettencourt said the storm response team would re-evaluate the situation Tuesday morning to see whether ban could be lifted, which largely depends on the condition of the roads across the city.
As for that 24-hour driving ban declared by Gov. Deval Patrick Friday afternoon, Bettencourt said, it was effective overall and seemed to help keep people at home and off the roads out of danger. He likewise declared a local State of Emergency for Peabody that afternoon.
Bettencourt said he wasn't sure he agreed with the ban in principle, which threatened hefty times and even jail time, but it was effective. Of course, there were still some people out on the roads Friday night regardless.
He said the plow truck he rode along in had to pull over several times to assist stranded drivers and that did slow down the pace of snow removal somewhat. There were also some snowmobilers out for the night, which kept police busy at one point.
One thing residents can do to help out, Bettencourt said, is identify and/or dig out fire hydrants and catch basins near their homes. As the snow melts, clearing the drains will help prevent flooding.