Saturday, June 11, 2011

CM James' Responds to Allegations of 2010 Blizzard Sanitation Slowdown

June 10, 2011

Contact: Amyre Loomis at (718) 260-9191


Almost two feet of snow was dumped on New York City on December 26, and the Tri-state area was covered with nearly 30 inches of snow that week… Sanitation Department slowdown never verified, completely unfounded

“The report issued recently by the Department of Investigation (DOI) regarding the 2010 Blizzard confirms a significant amount of what the Council and the Sanitation Committee discovered during hearings on the blizzard of December 2010. It also brings to light a few important issues that remain unresolved, and I hope to work with DSNY to address these items in the coming months.

Above all, the report underscores the need for improved planning and transparency, which are the two primary objectives achieved by the legislative package passed by the City Council in April. DOI deserves significant credit for conducting a thorough investigation of the allegations of a slow-down, and of other factors that may have contributed to the inadequate response to the blizzard that hit New York City on December 26th and 27th of 2010.

DOI interviewed over 150 witnesses including employees from DSNY, DOT, various elected officials, and several dozen members of the public. DOI also read numerous emails, viewed photos from the public, reviewed hours of video footage obtained from the public and law enforcement sources, issued numerous subpoenas, and conferred with several different prosecutors located in New York City. A number of positive conclusions and important corrections to the record should be emphasized. Most importantly, the allegations of a slow-down were never verified and appear to be completely unfounded.

Furthermore, the vast majority of Sanitation workers were doing the best that they could under the circumstances, although even some of the best equipped plows were getting stuck because of the severe conditions - the level of personnel and equipment was commensurate with levels of recent significant storms. Although there were reports of trucks driving with raised plows, most of the reported incidents that were captured on film were circumstances where the plows were supposed to be up, and DSNY is looking into the few instances where plows appeared to be improperly raised.

When GPS was used, it appears to have been effective, and we are glad to note that DSNY is going forward with our recommendation to expand the use of GPS to all snow plows. According to the DSNY official, the Queens East 8 Garage achieved a higher percentage of streets salted and plowed during the blizzard of December 2010 compared to garages in other districts that received approximately the same amount of snow. The report does identify a number of issues that require further attention such as greater planning and coordination must be in place for sensitive locations such as hospitals.

As I pointed out at the City Council hearing on January 10th, there were significant complaints from Sanitation workers that the chains used during the storm were inadequate. The DOI report provides evidence to support this claim. According to DSNY, there were 3,760 chains that were damaged during the cleanup - about 44% of the chains used during the storm - which raises questions about whether the new chains used by DSNY are durable enough to be trusted in the future. Furthermore, a significant number of DSNY employees stated that trucks had insufficient number of chains.

Other issues cited include: the disagreement between management and rank-and-file DSNY employees regarding when to cease salting during the storm, which could have been addressed through better communication and planning, and those disagreements should be resolved before the next snow season begins. DSNY should reconsider its policy requiring that one employee stay with each and every DSNY vehicle that becomes stuck or stalled during a storm.

During a severe storm such as the December 2010 blizzard, a significant number of employees could have been reassigned to other tasks that could have expedited snow removal more directly, and the appearance of so many employees simply sitting in stalled vehicles created a negative perception of the work being done.

Finally, I also urge DSNY to review its procedures with respect to ordering the proper amount and type of snow shovels. Many lessons were learned from the 2010 Blizzard, and I am confident that when snow storms hit again this winter the City will be much better prepared to handle it in every way.”


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