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State allows waterways as last resort for dumping snow, but no takers yet

By Claire Bessette and Judy Benson

Publication: theday.com

Published 02/11/2013 12:00 AM
Updated 02/12/2013 07:10 PM

Few southeastern Connecticut municipalities are considering taking up the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection’s offer to allow them to dump excess snow into some of the state’s waterways under certain conditions.

Instead, local towns are dumping snow on recreation fields and in parking lots.

On Monday, the state Department of Transportation had its 632 plow trucks and 150 pay loaders pushing previously plowed snow banks farther off roadways and behind guardrails, spokesman Kevin Nursick said.

“We’re shelving back the snow behind guardrails, to make room for additional snow,” he said. More snow could fall on the region Wednesday night into Thursday, according to the National Weather Service.

DOT crews are piling snow on center medians and grassy areas at exit ramps. The DOT is not dumping any snow in waterways, Nursick said.

“We are only doing short-distance hauling,” he said.

DEEP is giving cities and towns “some flexibility” to dump snow in salt water and some inland waterways if all options for ground storage or other disposal methods have been exhausted.

The DEEP guidelines for snow disposal are in line with federal guidelines and those in neighboring states, DEEP spokesman Dwayne Gardner said.

The flexibility on disposal applies only to cities, town and other government entities, and applies only to snow and ice not visibly contaminated with material other than salt and sand from road-clearing activities. It also requires public notification from the DEEP commissioner that the flexibility is in effect.

Before the storm, the Naval Submarine Base in Groton asked the DEEP if it could be given permission to dump snow in the Thames River, Gardner said Monday. The cities of Waterbury and New Haven also asked.

Before snow is dumped in a waterway, the Navy and the two cities would be required to notify DEEP where the snow is being dumped, when, and the quantity, and to verify that all other disposal options have been exhausted, Gardner said.

“It is important to note that in-water disposal is the option of last resort, and we find that municipalities that ask don’t always end up needing this option,” he said.

Snow can contain contaminants such as salt, oil and other fuels that would pollute waterways if dumped in directly, Gardner said. The contaminants are filtered by the soil if the snow is piled on a field and allowed to melt gradually. Environmentally sensitive areas must be avoided. Disposal in ponds and lakes is discouraged.

“We’re very wary of managing snow in a way that doesn’t hurt our waterways,” said Ozzie Inglese, director of the water permitting and enforcement division at DEEP. In addition to pollution concerns, large amounts of snow dumped directly into a waterway can cause dangerous ice jams that could dam a river and cause flooding, he said.

Christopher Zendan, Navy spokesman, said that thus far, there has not been a need to dump snow in the Thames River.

“We’re using a flat, open field on the base” to pile the snow, he said.

Public works crews on the base were still working Monday to clear parking lots and haul snow out of areas such as the lower base, where there are few open spaces to pile snow.

Officials in several local towns said Monday they have no immediate plans to seek DEEP approval to dump snow in waterways. Norwich and Montville officials said they might consider it as local recreation fields fill up.

Stonington First Selectman Ed Haberek said that later this week highway crews will turn their attention to removing snow banks from downtown Pawcatuck and Mystic. He said most likely it would be piled along Spellman Drive behind the high school.

In Stonington Borough, Warden Paul Burgess said Monday the borough’s two-person highway department crew with the help of two outside contractors will continue to clear the main business  district and will dump snow in mounds along the east side of  Stonington Point but not in Stonington Harbor.

“That works out fine,” he said.

In New London, snow is being trucked to Parcel J on the corner of Bank and Howard streets, and to an empty lot near the public works garage off Crystal Avenue, said Zak Leavy, executive assistant to the mayor. Groton City is piling snow in Washington Park, after trucking it off narrow streets including Thames, Mitchell and North, said Mayor Marian Galbraith.

“But some people have parked their cars with the noses out into the street, so the plows can’t get through,” she said.

Groton Town public works crews Monday were focusing on clearing drainage basins for rain and melting snow, Public Works Director Gary Schneider said. Once they resume snow removal, the priority will be intersections where visibility is blocked by snow mounds, he said. The town will pile snow near the transfer station off Flanders Road and at the Esker Point Beach parking lot.

Groton Town, Groton City and New London do not plan to dump snow in the river.

Norwich crews are trucking snow from narrow city streets to a football field off Hamilton Avenue, said Angelo Yeitz, supervisor of streets and parks. Piles of snow were being scooped up from downtown, the Greeneville neighborhood and areas around Norwich Free Academy to so customers, residents and school students and employees would be able to park there, he said.

“We’ve been hauling truckloads since 3 this morning,” he said Monday.

Norwich Public Utilities crews have been helping the town crews with some of the snow removal, he added.

c.bessette@theday.com

j.benson@theday.com

Greg Smith and Joe Wojtas contributed to this report.

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