Public Works Director Discusses Winter, Goals for Next Year

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Charlie Breitrose

A Watertown Department of Public Works snow plow.

A Watertown Department of Public Works snow plow.

Charlie Breitrose

A Watertown Department of Public Works snow plow.

The Department of Public Works had a busy Fiscal 2015 dealing with record snow fall, and officials are preparing for more snow, and the many other areas the DPW deals with. 

Public Works Superintendent Gerald Mee discussed some of the goals and areas the DPW will work on during his budget hearing on Saturday. The Fiscal 2016 DPW budget – not including waste disposal or snow/ice removal – is $5 million, up $151,000 from the prior fiscal year (which ends on June 30, 2015). The waste disposal budget is $2.96 million and $1.16 million has been allotted for snow and ice removal, said Town Manager Michael Driscoll.

Winter of 2015

The DPW dealt with a record 112 inches of  snow, compared to an average of 42 inches, Mee said. They had 35 events that required plowing and/or sanding and salting, including eight major plowing events, Mee said. On the longest one some crews worked 56 hours straight.

“One of the reasons why it was done so well was because of the equipment,” Mee said. “It all proved valuable in a winter like this.”

The town also was the first in the nation to purchase a particular sidewalk plow machine made in Canada. Mee has been invited to go to the factory Montreal to give suggestions for modifications to better meet Watertown’s needs.

DPW officials will have a debriefing about the winter to figure out what they did right and what they did wrong. Mee said he has a feeling winters will have lots of snow and go later that previous years.

Town Councilors worried whether the equipment will be kept in good working shape because the DPW has not been able to fill the opening for central motors mechanic. Councilor Susan Falkoff said she thinks the job description might need altering. Mee agreed and said the search will continue.

The position could be key to other departments, too. The Council has been interested in having the mechanic be certified to work on fire and police vehicles so the town does not have to send those vehicles out for servicing.

Streets and Sidewalks

The DPW is working closer with National Grid to coordinate gas main replacements. Each day, five to seven gas company crews are working in town, Mee said. Councilor Cecilia Lenk said that is a good step.

“It is great progress getting the gas company to do gas work,” Lenk said. “I know it is frustrating for residents not having their roads repaved, but if we don’t want to have roads dug up again days, minutes, sometimes seconds after they are repaved it is good to have this coordination.”

Councilor Angeline Kounelis said she is concerned about the planting strips in sidewalks, which she refers to as “mud pits.” Mee said some areas “X” blocks are used where grass can grow in the holes in the concrete blocks.

Kounelis said she has also seen a lot of recently paved sidewalks that are already chipping and falling apart. The town will make sure the contractor redoes the work, unless it is a fault in the manufacturer of the concrete, Mee said, in which case it is more difficult.

Other Goals

Another priority of the DPW is to have projects “on the shelf” ready to go when funding becomes available from the state or federal governments. Mee said that this does not mean that the public will not get to have input in the projects.

“My feeling is we cannot walk into a meeting with the public without a plan and say, ‘So, what do you want to do?'” Mee said.

Councilor Aaron Dushku said he wondered if the town would start collecting organic materials, along with trash and recycling. Mee said that was the next big area the town will be addressing.

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