Mayor Gary Christenson weighs in on ‘toughest winter ever’

Washington St in Malden.jpg 3“Toughest winter ever,” said Mayor Gary Christenson, referring to the winter that would not quit. The snow started January 24 and kept on every weekend after that through the entire month of February and on into March.  The snowfall kept getting higher, the temperatures lower and it felt like winter was just beginning instead of almost being on its way out. No doubt about it, it was a brutal.

Mayor Gary Christenson of Malden along with Robert Knox, director of public works, broke it down for me. Having had 21 years with the DPW, Knox had pretty much seen it all.

“There’s plenty of prep in advance of winter,” Knox shared. “Having made it this far and almost through January, the expectation was for a normal winter.”

Knox explained that realistically the city is equipped t o handle a foot of snow. In the past, with at least a foot on the ground and more to follow, the DPW would try to start snow removal sooner rather than later. Historically, past storms were follow by a lull, allowing some recovery time ……. this time, not so much!

Knox shared that he talked hourly with the mayor’s office, prior, during and after each storm. He was also in constant contact with emergency management staff such as the police and fire department, school officials and area businesses.

The Malden community might not know this, but the typical plowing plan, calls for curb-to-curb plowing. Really, you say!

Knox and his team did have a plan. It began with clearing the main arteries, side streets, sidewalks and of course the bus stops. The fire department and resident helped to keep the fire hydrant cleared, while teens from Roca helped to take care of the bus stops and municipal stairs. As a matter of fact, with the final big storm, the city paid to have the bus stops cleared out and also cleared the bike path.

With the intensity of each storm there was more fatigue, both of humans and machines. Snow didn’t just fall conveniently on the weekends. Guys were working ridiculous hours. After putting in a full day starting at the crack of dawn, ending about 10 p.m., to be back at 7 a.m. the next morning. Phew!

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Prior to Mayor Christenson coming into office, Knox explained, the equipment the city had was 20-25 years old. “In the past three years we have acquired seven new plows and sanders. This improved fleet made all the difference. That and the great relationships we’ve developed with contractors such as Joe’s Welding, Allen L Trucking and Robinson Landscaping to name a few.”

“Bob led by example,” Mayor Christenson said. “He also plowed himself, while strategizing how to utilize his staff best. His family did not see him for two months.”

And the mayor was no slouch. He rode around with Knox during and after the storms, seeing for himself what was working and what wasn’t. And his staff moved down to the DPW to field calls. The mayor said he was very proud of the new 311 emergency alert beacon system. It serves to notify residents to utilize the 311 emergency system to get updates on a particular declared emergency.

When the lights are on, resident  may call 311 or check the city’s website for instructions.

When asked to address some of the more pressing concerns of residents Mayor Christenson and Knox both responded candidly.

“This is not an exact science,” Mayor Christenson said. “When a snow emergency is declared all sorts or preparation have to be made. The record breaking snowfall of this season taught us a few things.”

“We make every effort to prepare the community, ” said Knox. “We start by working closely with the school superintendent. A decision has to be made regarding when to close schools. We know that residents will move their vehicles off the roads to empty school parking lots, so we get those lots cleared.”

For Valentine’s Day a decision was made to declare the snow emergency after the Valentine’s Day celebrants had enjoyed their night out. This was to allow businesses still dealing with any financial fallout from the prior weeks to enjoy a small respite.

Kevin Duffy, strategy & business development officer also shared his thoughts. “We gave an early warning ahead of the storm, that the snow emergency would not be enforced in downtown Malden until after the Valentine’s dinner patrons had enjoyed their night out,” Duffy said.

For that last big storm, “Bob looked at the timing of it and mulled over the lessons learned from the earlier storms, and made some crucial decisions, ” said Mayor Christenson. “He knew that Spring would start in three weeks and we would have spent 2 million by then in snow removal expenditures, greatly exceeding the city’s snow removal budget, yet certainly less than other cities. Bob’s crew did round the clock plowing tackling as much as they could.”

When it appeared that the snow would not stop falling and we were running out of places to put it, Bob again had to strategize with the mayor. After the fourth storm they invested in the rental of a giant snow blower, a machine that sits on the front of a truck, runs down the gutters of streets and shaves and cuts the snow. They kept it for a week at a negotiated cost of $400.00 an hour working from 8:00 pm at night ’til 6:00 am the next morning. Then they looked internally for locations to dump the snow. Depending on where they were working, the snow may have been dumped at Devir Park, Anderson Field, the former Malden Hospital or Lincoln Park. This was considerably cheaper  and more efficient than looking to dump outside of the city. The DPW has been picking up trash and has an agenda to clean up and repair any damage to the fields where snow was dumped.

At the first opportunity the DPW crew went to Watertown to get the asphalt needed to fill the many pot holes resulting from the salting. Winter is over but there is still work to be done.

So with the promise of spring in the air and winter warming to spring, all of us in Malden look forward to the moving onto the next season.

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