With residents expressing dissatisfaction with their snow removal efforts over the past couple weeks, the Hoboken City Council allocated an hour of their meeting for officials to discuss plans ahead of more upcoming winter weather.
#Hoboken officials spoke at length about snow clearing efforts at last night’s council meeting.
Of note, the city has not been using their snow melter since “it’s incredibly labor intensive and resource intensive.”
— John Heinis (@HeinisHardNews) February 18, 2021
“We wanted to provide an overview of snow emergency operations in general. Certainly we will focus a lot on the February nor’easter that happened from January 31st through February 2nd,” Hoboken Director of Environmental Services Jennifer Gonzalez said before making a presentation to the council.
Gonzalez oversees the city’s department of public works, which has drawn the ire of Hobokenites since the aforementioned nor’easter, though she said that storm delivered 17.5 inches of snow in a 36-hour time frame – the most in just over five years.
“The February nor’easter was the most snowfall on record since January [24th], 2016, which was about 26.5 inches of snow. It was a category 3 major nor’easter with blizzard conditions,” continuing that NJ Transit service was suspended and COVID-19 testing and vaccination sites were shut down as a result.
The director further stated that through February 15th, 10 days brought temperatures below freezing and that 23 inches of snow had fallen – prior to the six to 12 inches in the forecast between today and Friday.
Furthermore, the city is responsible for plowing about 35 miles of roads, 26 that are city roads and 9 that are county, which are made possible with a swath of heavy machinery.
That includes two large plow/spreader trucks, eight smaller pick-up plow/spreader trucks, one payloader, one large bobcat, one smaller bobcat, eight snow broom/snowblowers for sidewalks, two roll-off trucks for dumpsters, a rack truck, and a snow melter – along with tons of rock salt.
At that point, a couple members of the governing body began to get restless, such as Council President Ruben Ramos.
“The roads themselves are not an issue that I received as the event happened. But I think the after removal from the crosswalks, from parking areas, from corners – intersections – is where people had their concern with the overall product,” he explained.
Ramos added that if Gonzalez went ahead with presenting an additional 30 powerpoint slides, it would likely take at least 40 minutes and would not address the heart of the matter.
“We’ve all seen snow removal in Hoboken and a good job is when we don’t know how this operates, right?,” the council president said.
2nd Ward Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher concurred, noting that residents had noted they were unclear as to what the actual plans are for removing snow from the streets, as well as how street sweepers were giving tickets prior to snow removal.
As a result, Gonzalez said she could skip over the preparedness and response portion of her presentation and get straight to the recovery portion.
She indicated that clearing snow at public facilities such as crosswalks, school zones, and ADA ramps, are given top priority, followed by assistance to property owners that live in high traffic areas, then removing curbside snow, before addressing any remaining areas.
Gonzalez said that Nixle alerts have been issues recently to remind property owners that it’s up to them to clear their sidewalks and wheelchair ramps, though the city will try to assist when possible.
Additionally, Hoboken is one of several Hudson County municipalities with a snow melter, but according to Gonzalez said that hasn’t been of any use to the city this season after being prompted by a question from 3rd Ward Councilman Mike Russo.
“Any particular reason why?,” Russo asked.
“Yes. It’s incredibly labor intensive and resource intensive,” Gonzalez said.
“Then why did we buy it?,” Ramos chimed in.
“I cannot speak to former decisions … I don’t know the answer to that. But I will tell you, here’s a really brief overview of our snow melter: it was built in 2003, it melts 60 tons an hour, diesel consumption is 86 gallons an hour, it’s got a 775 gallon tank. And it’s super heavy, you can tow it at less than 10 miles an hour – and it’s 40,000 pounds,” Gonzalez explained.
She further stated that the bulky piece of equipment was purchased from the county for $65,000 in 2016. At that point the machine had only been used three times, but said that by 2021 standards it just isn’t efficient, with each tank of fuel – which lasts about nine hours – costing about $2,225.
The director also pointed out that the snow melter requires three people, along with a payloader to move snow, to operate it correctly, which just isn’t typically the best use of time and resources during or after a storm.
Russo agreed, but said if it wasn’t going to be used, it’s time to get rid of it, with Ramos joking that it should be sold for parts.
A short while later, Councilman-at-Large Jim Doyle thanked Gonzalez for her “herculean” efforts and said people need to develop more realistic expectations during harsh winters.
“When you have 20 inches of snow, it stays cold [outside], you’re gonna have snow that’s sticking around and I don’t know how realistic the expectations are of people that think it will be gone in two days so that’s my opinion.”
Russo disagreed, saying that the city has dealt with less than ideal winters in the past and he didn’t see why that would suddenly change.
As officials had said prior to Wednesday, Gonzalez said that cars have to move for street cleaning once the main thoroughfares have been cleared in order to remove persistent snow and there really isn’t any other way around it.
“Moving the cars allow the city to more quickly clear the snow as opposed to waiting and keeping the snow in the curbside area for another week,” she stated.
That didn’t sit will with Ramos, pointing out that during a huge blizzard during Mayor Anthony Russo’s tenure saw tow trucks move parked cars if necessary to clear the snow faster and more efficiently.
While Gonzalez said that was probably in the 90s and long before she worked for the city, OEM Coordinator William Montanez, also a police sergeant, said that practice would never happen again since it is “illegal” and “unconstitutional” to move someone else’s vehicle.
Fisher said that what Montanez mentioned implied no notice given, but noted past practices involved giving notice and towing, with Ramos interjecting that such practices still exist in North Bergen, Union City, and Jersey City.
Few members of the public weighed in on the presentation, but those who did were not impressed.
“That presentation was insulting. It wouldn’t have been necessary if what was supposed to be done was actually done: unfortunately that wasn’t the case,” stated resident Warren Carrs.
Weather forecasts are currently showing that up to four of seven inches of snow could hit Hoboken on Friday. In anticipation of today’s ice and snow, eight plows salted the Mile Square City’s streets last night.