Highway Super Makes A House Call
When snow removal workers failed to plow a Dix Hills cul-de-sac for nearly two days after last week’s blizzard dumped a foot of snow on some Huntington neighborhoods, new Superintendent of Highways Peter Gunther made a house call to apologize for the delay.
Gunther said he had no idea that Fielding Court had gone unplowed, but as soon as he found out, he joined a crew and went there Saturday to ensure it was straightened out.
Communication issues exasperated residents of Fielding Court, where Linda Charkow said it took nearly two days for snow to be cleared from the cul-de-sac. Late on Jan. 2, a blizzard dumped a foot of snow on Melville, 11.5 inches on Commack and 10 inches on East Northport, according to National Weather Service projections.
After Huntington Highway crews were spotted nearby at 11:30 p.m. Thursday night, she and her neighbors were hoping for a quick dig-out after problems in previous years.
“We thought, this is wonderful, this is great. Then, nothing,” Charkow said. “We’ve never in 30 some-odd years had to wait two days. This was exceptionally long.”
When the cul-de-sac was finally cleared Saturday afternoon, Gunther was on hand to personally apologize to residents for the delay, which Charkow said was a first and a welcome gesture.
One reason Gunther might not have known about Fielding Court’s plight is because the highway department’s computers and phone system died at a most inopportune time.
“I was dead in the water – the complaint phone was gone, the phones were gone, the computers were gone; no way for anybody to communicate. Public Safety did me a great, great favor – they fielded more calls than they needed to do,” the new highway super said.
Charkow said she called the town’s public safety and highway offices on Friday to report conditions on her block and was told the message was being forwarded. When she called again on Saturday morning, she couldn’t get through to anybody.
“I really felt badly for [Mr. Gunther] – the whole system was kaput,” Charkow said.
Town spokesman A.J. Carter said the town set up two special storm hotlines, which were shared with residents through messages on the town’s website, Facebook page and via robocall at 5:30 p.m. Thursday.
“As soon as he [Supervisor Frank Petrone] declared a state of emergency, we put it out,” Carter said.
Carter added that if residents called the public safety office on the weekend, their call would have been forwarded to the general switchboard, where a voice message would direct them to call the town’s emergency line at 631-351-3234, which public safety officers answer around the clock.
Aside from a handful of “hiccups,” Gunther and Supervisor Frank Petrone said the coordinated storm effort went smoothly and most town roads had been plowed at least once by mid-day Friday.
Town officials lauded new levels of cooperation and coordination in the storm response that boasted 70 town trucks and more than 130 independent contractors.
“If Peter were in office for several years and this storm hit and he did exactly the same thing it would have been rated as a very good response and a good cleanup,” Petrone said. “Of course he’s critiquing along and we’re going to do this together because he wants to make improvements.”
Gunther, likewise, had high praise for the efforts of town workers and department heads.
“General Services was fantastic… They did everything in their power to give me everything,” Gunther said.
Petrone added that the town caught a break by avoiding flooding in critical low-lying areas.
“We had to watch some of the flooding on Asharoken Avenue and on the Lloyd Harbor causeway, but we were fortunate. The tides came at the right time and we did not get the flooding we were ready for,” Petrone said.
Gunther said efforts began Jan. 2 with a series of new techniques. Work crews coated main roads and hilly stretches with a mixture of brine and calcium chloride to ward off freezing. On main streets and back roads, they eschewed the traditional salt-and-sand blend and applied only salt, reserving a 50-50 sand-salt mix for hills and other problem areas prone to freezing.
The supervisor said he is hopeful that future storm responses will follow a similar collaborative track.
“He [Gunther] wants to coordinate more and share services… That’s very exciting,” Petrone said. “It’s good for the taxpayer.”
As town officials were sworn in Sunday at Elwood/John Glenn High School, several speakers turned their attention to Gunther, who had little time to catch his breath before being tackling his first blizzard – two days in office, to be precise.
“Peter seems to follow a tradition of first-time highway superintendents [being welcomed] by a baptism of snow within the first week of their tenure,” inauguration emcee Ken Christensen said.
In some ways, Gunther said the storm was a blessing in disguise.
“I’m glad that I had this storm. It’s better now than waiting two months to find out where the problems are,” Gunther said.