No blizzard snafus this year: City

Sanitation Deputy Chief James McGovern discusses the city's snow plan for this winter during the CB 11 meeting. Photo by Ivan Pereira
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The city manager responsible for keeping northeastern Queens’ streets clear during snowstorms reassured Community Board 11 Monday that this winter he and his team will not allow residents to be stranded during a major snowstorm.

Sanitation Department Deputy Chief James McGovern, who commands the Q11 garage in Bellerose, talked to the board during its monthly meeting and said the city has rethought the way it clears the streets during blizzards.

McGovern, a Far Rockaway native, acknowledged that sanitation crews did not do a good job clearing nearly 2 feet of snow during the Dec. 26 blizzard last year, but he reminded the board that the storm was abnormal.

“By the time [the plows] reached the same spot of the street on the opposite direction, the first side was covered in white,” he said.

The garage is part of Sanitation’s Queens East jurisdiction, which covers Bayside, Little Neck, Douglaston, Bellerose and other parts of northeast Queens. McGovern said this section is important to the city because it lies on the cusp of Nassau County and includes four major highways: the Long Island and Clearview expressways and the Grand Central and Cross Island parkways.

Under the new snow cleanup plan, plows will clear those highways first before moving to the important roads in the neighborhood and finally the side streets, McGovern said. All sanitation workers have had extra training since September on how to handle heavy snowstorms and the city has given the Q11 garage seven new plows.

In addition to the new equipment, the department will be looking at several hotspots in the northeast Queens area where residents have said there problems develop during storms, including the Cross Island entrance on Northern Boulevard and the Little Neck and Bayside Long Island Rail Road stations.

McGovern said his crews will be at those spots as quickly as they can and not only remove the snow from the street, but also work to prevent ice and puddle conditions.

Some of the residents who attended the meeting questioned McGovern on the reliability of his workers during the Dec. 26 snowstorm.

In the immediate aftermath of the Dec. 26 blizzard, City Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone) contended that some sanitation workers came to him and said they were told by their union supervisors to deliberately sabotage the cleanup as revenge for budget cuts to the department.

A city investigation into the handling of last year’s blizzard not only determined that there was no planned sabotage, but also concluded that Halloran, who did not attend Monday’s board meeting, tried to strong arm sanitation workers into backing his allegation.

McGovern said he and his team were called in to the garage on Christmas Day, 24 hours before the snowfall started, and he did not return home until four days later.

“The dedication of the men and women cannot be questioned. Many of these workers stayed overnight to prepare,” he said.

One of the residents claimed at the meeting he saw a truck raise its plow during last year’s blizzard and fail to clear his street. McGovern said the man did not see the full picture.

He said the trucks are mandated to raise their plows up 4 to 5 inches when snow on the streets exceeds a foot, because the plows cannot handle the weight of that much snow. A second truck is instructed to return to the street and pick up the remainder of the snow, according to McGovern.

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4546.

Posted 1:08 am, December 8, 2011
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