By Mayor Gerry Scharfenberger, Middletown
Middletown, as well as most of Monmouth and Ocean Counties faced a storm that became one of the five worst in the last 140 years, with 30 inches of snow and winds equivalent to a category 2 hurricane. Township crews and private contractors began working the streets at approximately 10:00AM on Sunday, December 26th.
Hours before the storm weather predictions were for about half of what we actually were faced with. One of the most difficult issues with this storm was how quickly the snow accumulated. For the first 24 hours crews out plowing and using front end loaders were severely hampered by an extraordinary number of emergency calls requiring fire, first aid and police response. From Sunday, December 26th through Thursday, December 30th 3,449 calls for assistance were received. Of these, 1,009 calls required some form of emergency response and many were 911 calls. There were 204 reports of disabled motor vehicles (many stranded or abandoned and many of which were emergency vehicles), 123 First Aid and/or Fire responses and 102 reports of motor vehicle crashes.
Each emergency response required the diversion of a snow crew from wherever they were working to the location of the emergency so that access could be quickly provided to the address. This effort was continually hampered by again, an extraordinary number vehicles being stuck on the road, including numerous police cars, ambulances, tow trucks, and plows. There were also numerous cars left abandoned on roads, further hampering plowing operations.
Many pick-up trucks with plows were simply overwhelmed by the volume and weight of the snow and unable to function. In most areas, front end loaders were needed. Although front end loaders are very efficient in the volume of snow they can move, they do move very slowly. This is especially true in areas with a lot of on-street parking and we have a lot of neighborhoods like that.
Besides the complication of the tremendous volume of snow and the enormous number of calls for emergency response, two other factors contributed to the difficulties encountered. Because the storm hit Sunday and peaked Sunday night, there were a lot more cars parked on the streets that there would be for a weekday storm. In addition, on some roads conditions were made worse after mostly well-intentioned people moved snow from driveways and walkways and put it back into the streets.
The Township has had crews on the road, both township employees and private contractors, constantly since Sunday morning. Typically there are about 24 to 30 workers on either plows, front end loaders, or salt/sand trucks at any given time. The town is divided into four districts and each district has a supervisor that moves the crews from place to place within their district. They also re-deploy vehicles as needed to respond to emergencies. These crews, which include both township employees and private contractors, have worked round the clock since Sunday morning and will continue to do so for as long as necessary.
Each year the Township awards contracts to 6-7 private contractors to supplement our municipal operations. In response to this snow emergency, we added two more contractors. While one did show up and performed very well for us, the other contractor simply failed to appear. The area this contractor failed to cover had to be picked up by others causing further delay.
Middletown is comprised of 42 square miles compared to Manhattan with only 23 square miles. Our large geographic area presents a number of substantial challenges during storm events like this. The sheer number of roadway miles in Middletown is daunting when you think of plowing snow. Crews have to plow 330 roadway miles, which is the equivalent of plowing from Middletown to Richmond, Virginia.
We are confident that Middletown’s emergency responders and road crews did their very best through this extremely powerful storm. However, we realize that there is always room for improvement. We will be making every effort to review our operations and procedures used to respond to such storms and will implement several changes that will help us to handle such events more expeditiously in the future. We thank you for and appreciate your patience and perseverance. We will make every effort to continue improving our operations to the best of our ability.
Finally I would also like to acknowledge the efforts of Monmouth County and the State of New Jersey. In addition to clearing the County roads, Freeholder John Curley was instrumental in sending us three front end loaders and operators to help clear Middletown roads. Similarly, the New Jersey Department of Transportation was quick to clear the State highways that run through Middletown and a representative from the Governor’s office even reached out to me personally to offer any assistance we needed. We thank them for partnering with us during this extraordinary storm event.