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City Council addresses recent "communication breakdown" that impacted plowing operations

Miscommunication between the Public Works Department and the Police Department led to poor road conditions late last month. This may lead to a change in policy. (Photo by Jody Houle) (click for larger version)
February 15, 2017
BERLIN — After a late January snow storm, many residents complained of very poor road conditions. During a City Council meeting last Monday, Mayor Paul Grenier wanted an analysis of what occurred that made the conditions so poor on Jan. 25. City Manager James Wheeler stated that a "communication breakdown" occurred between the police department and the public works foreman which led to the roads not being plowed, salted and sanded.

Currently, the policy during snow storms is that the Police Department notifies the Public Works Department of slippery roads in the evening. The miscommunication has led to a possible future change in that policy.

Throughout Jan. 24 and 25, sleet and snow deteriorated road conditions. Wheeler said that on Jan. 24, crews from Public Works plowed, salted and sanded during the day. An operator and loader cleared parking lots, Main Street and around schools beginning at 5 a.m. the next day. Public works sent an additional loader at 5:45 a.m. due to heavy accumulation. Additional crews were not called in since workers were scheduled for 7 a.m., and the City has to pay a four hour minimum to each employee that is called in before their scheduled time. On the evening of the 24th, the Police Department contacted the supervisor of Public Works supervisor at 11:30 p.m. notifying the department of poor conditions. The supervisor misunderstood the call and thought the police were addressing a separate issue of cars that were parked overnight and needed to be moved.

Wheeler noted that the foreman makes the decision of when to take care of the roads during regular hours. Public Works factors in the amount of snowfall, the rate of accumulation, the type of snow, the forecast and the time of day to determine if and when the roads need attention. The police department notifies public works during off hours in the evening.

Councilor Roland Theberge suggested that the parking ban be extended past 7 a.m. to give Public Works more time to plow. He added that the weather forecasts "are very accurate" and he asked why those tools are not used. Wheeler said the Public Works "knows how to do their jobs."

Councilor Diana Nelson said it is "unacceptable" to plow the streets around schools "when children are out on foot" and suggested getting a school official in on the discussion.

Councilor Lucy Remillard noted that the City pays a foreman every time he has to make a call at night. She added that it should be the responsibility of Public Works to check weather predictions, take a ride around town, and rely on those things to determine for themselves whether to take care of the roads. Theberge agreed.

"It's nice to say that the PD will make the call; however, they could be otherwise occupied," said Remillard.

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