By SUE SUCHYTA
Sunday Times Newspapers
MELVINDALE – As Department of Public Works employees began to plow city streets following the recent snowstorm, the same crew of workers was faced with responding to water main breaks throughout the city.
With DPW Director Larrie Ordus in Florida on vacation, and the department already short-staffed, the snowfall and cold temperatures set off a perfect storm of challenges for the city workers.
At the Feb. 17 City Council meeting, Councilman Steve Densmore said he was disappointed with the fact that some residential streets have still not been plowed 48 hours after the snow emergency began, which he said limits access for emergency responders.
“I know four streets that haven’t even been touched,” he said. “We’ve got snow curb to curb, and I spent my first hour after work assisting my neighbors who were stuck in the middle of the street.”
Densmore said the city has invested in snow removal equipment, and he doesn’t know why the residential streets are not all getting cleared as they should.
“We are supposed to get some more snow, and the stuff that is there is frozen, and now we are going to be breaking plows trying to get frozen snow off the street,” he said. “I know they are understaffed, and they do a great job, but if we can’t get down our streets, how are we going to get people out?”
Densmore suggested contracting work out if needed.
Mayor Wheeler Marsee said he has heard a lot of complaints about snow removal in the last few days, as well.
He said a civil service test has been scheduled, and the city is working to hire more employees for the DPW.
“We are having a hard time getting those applicants,” Marsee said. “We are going to have to have a better plan. Some of the streets were plowed nicely, and I didn’t know until now that some did not get plowed at all.”
Councilwoman Dawn Cartrette said that with the city having a limited number of people who are certified to drive its big snow plows, and with those same employees responding to water main breaks, they can’t be in two places at once.
Marsee said that there are a limited number of outside contractors that will work to fix water main breaks, and with many Downriver cities dealing with breaks, they are overwhelmed right now.
“A lot of water mains are breaking due to the cold temperatures, and we can’t shut the water off,” he said. “The problem is, with COVID right now, you cannot shut the water off for any long period of time.”
Marsee said an hour-long shutoff to fix a water main is acceptable, but longer shutoffs are not.
“They were given a directive to get contractors out for (the water main break) and put their focus on plowing the streets,” he said. “They do a great job. I just don’t know what happened this time.”