Cecil County Roads Mostly Clear, County Council Divided on Snow Response; South County Shines
Cecil County suffered a record or near record snowfall last weekend and county roads crews and contractors toiled around the clock to clear hundreds of miles of roadways and bridges, but the County Council was divided Tuesday on just how good a job was done and whether social media should have been used more extensively to advise the public on snow-clearing progress.
But in southern Cecil County—often referred to by some Elkton-based government officials as “the middle of nowhere”—even remote rural county roads in Earleville were cleared to two full lanes and down to the pavement by mid-day Monday. That response was the best in more than 20 years, with lesser snow accumulations in the past, according to some long-time residents.
County Director of Public Works Scott Flanigan took the hot seat to explain to a County Council worksession Tuesday morning the actions of DPW employees and contractors who plowed county roads during the recent snow emergency. “Given the magnitude of the event” and “the major drifting problems,” he said, the DPW staff and contractors rose to the challenge.
He noted that just “72 hours after the last snowflakes fell” DPW and its contractors had plowed all major county roadways and that by Monday night, “every road had at least one pass” by snow plows, including more remote areas. After the Council meeting, Flanigan explained that DPW used GPS data, on board all county trucks, to verify snow plowing and to address citizen complaints to make sure that even remote areas received snow removal services.
But due to whiteout conditions, DPW had to call off snow-clearing operations at 6 p.m. Saturday for safety reasons, Flanigan said. Yet at 6 a.m. Sunday morning, the snowplows were back on the roads. By Sunday evening at 5 p.m., there were only 40 main county roads that were still closed due to drifting snow. But by Monday morning that tally was down to just one road, he added. And by Monday night, every county road had been “touched” at least once by plows.
At the height of the storm and in its immediate aftermath, the drifting snow conditions, exacerbated by high winds, required the recruitment of bucket loaders and large dump trucks to scoop up huge piles of snow. One of the problems the county faced was that private contractors with heavy-duty equipment were primarily contracted to serve the State Highway Administration (SHA) to clear state roads in the county—such as Route 213, the main north-south artery in Cecil County—and Route 40, the main east-west road in the county. So the county had to wait for those heavy equipment operators to fulfill their obligations to the state before they could be enlisted to help out on clearing other county roads.
In particular, Route 213 was cleared with extraordinary speed and quality, down to the pavement within a short time after the end of the blizzard in southern Cecil County, according to local south county residents.
County Council members Alan McCarthy (R-1) and Joyce Bowlsbey (R-2) praised Flanigan and his staff for their hard work in clearing the snow from county roads.
“I think you guys did an exemplary job,” McCarthy said. “I think you deserve a big hand.”
“I agree,” said Bowlsbey. “You did a great job. Thank you.”
County Council President Robert Hodge (R-5) complained that contractors didn’t know how to operate trucks, plows and heavy equipment. And after the meeting, he displayed printouts of two emails he received from constituents who complained about snow removal efforts in their communities. And he also complained that county roads serving his personal residence in North East had not received adequate attention.
Councilor Dan Schneckenburger (R-3) complained that DPW should have been more pro-active in communicating with citizens about the status of snow removal efforts, such as using Facebook and social media to provide advisories.
Flanigan said that he sent a very detailed email to the County Executive and all members of the County Council to advise them of the status of snow removal efforts. (And that email was the basis for the county executive, Tari Moore, to post information on her own members-only group Facebook account on the snow removal progress.)
While some members of the County Council in Elkton dithered about the snow removal quality, many southern Cecil County residents were thrilled with the efficiency and quality of services provided on the many winding, narrow county roads in the rural area that is often forgotten in the larger agenda of the Elkton-based county government. As many local residents shared photos on Facebook and other social media during the height of the storm and its aftermath, the quality of county snow removal on local rural roads was exemplary and encouraged many rural residents to venture out on the roads to go to work, church services, and running basic errands.
Flanigan told the County Council that the budgeted $400,000 for snow removal in this fiscal year would likely be surpassed by the latest blizzard, but it would take more time for all the bills to come in to determine how much the final costs would be. In the past, lesser storms have cost the county well over $1 million to $2 million to cover snow removal costs.
It was pointed out that with the much warmer than usual winter this year, with no previous snow storms, the latest “Snowmageddon” superstorm struck with no recent experience on handling snow problems, especially for new equipment operators.
“There was no pre-season game; we went directly to the Superbowl,” Flanigan observed, to laughter in the council meeting room.