Thursday, January 6, 2011

Meltdown! City Slow to Pick Up Trash Weeks After Storm

By Jason Barczy

Residents and politicians in Queens, and throughout the outer boroughs feel the city and Mayor Michael Bloomberg failed in its response to the Christmas Blizzard of 2010.

From a slow response time plowing city streets, delays on MTA buses and subways, and the evergrowing piles of trash in front of businesses and homes, the effects of the storm can still be seen nearly two weeks later.

“[Department of Sanitation Commissioner John Doherty] is telling us his men did a great job and would give them an A,” said Glendale resident Chris Maxham, whose street wasn’t cleared until the Thursday after the storm. “But most New Yorkers would probably give them an F.”

Councilman Dan Halloran (D-Whitestone) alleged in a New York Post report that Sanitation workers neglected streets in the outer boroughs to protest layoffs and staff reductions, and residents are now demanding answers.

District attorneys in Queens and Brooklyn and federal prosecutors are opening preliminary investigations into the allegations. Also, the City Council has called an oversight meeting on Monday, January 10, to question offi- cials, particularly Deputy Mayor Stephen Goldsmith and members of the Bloomberg administration, about the city’s response.

“I hope the deputy mayor will be in town to answer some pretty tough questions about why the city wasn’t prepared,” said City Council Member Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village). “This was his first real test and lives were lost and property was damaged.”

Response Time

The City Council announced it will hold a series of meetings, with next Monday’s meeting focusing on the response time. Critics questioned why certain measures weren’t taken prior to the storm and why a snow emergency was not declared by the mayor’s office.

“I think the city hesitated to do three important things,” Crowley said. “First, call a snow emergency. Second, get the sanitation workers into work and get the process started. Third, put the resources together to fight the storm. They should’ve started planning Christmas night.”

Questions linger as to who was in charge because Bloomberg refuses to say where he was over the Christmas weekend, while Goldsmith, who oversees sanitation and other emergency services, was in Washington D.C. Another deputy mayor, Howard Wolfson, was vacationing in London.

“You can focus on who was here, whether this was here,” Wolfson told NY1. “The bottom line is, we didn’t do the job... Had we done that, nobody would be asking questions about where the mayor was.”

In 2008, Bloomberg issued an executive order handing over power in his absence to his first deputy, which is currently Patricia Harris. Harris, and many others in City Hall, remains quiet about who was in charge as the storm approached.

“New Yorkers have serious questions about the City’s snow emergency policy and response,” City Council Speaker Christine Quinn said in a statement. “The collective storm response was not anywhere near up to the standards New Yorkers are accustomed to. This hearing acknowledges the reality that many New Yorkers are experiencing, that something went wrong.”

Monday’s meeting will be held at the Emigrants Savings Bank at 49-51 Chambers Street in Manhattan at 11 a.m. and will be the first of five held throughout the city.

“Nobody is going to get off easy,” said Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park). “There’s going to be a lot of tough questions asked and a lot of information revealed. It didn’t just go wrong one day but a lot of mistakes were made before and after that day.”

Sanitation woes

The New York Post first reported that Department of Sanitation (DOS) workers deliberately slowed down the snow removal and neglected to plow streets in the outer boroughs in an effort to protest a 6 percent staff reduction in the past two years along with demotions for 100 supervisors.

The allegations include:

  • Sanitation supervisors in Brooklyn bought beer during the storm instead of working.
  • Streets in the outer boroughs were neg- lected by plow trucks to protest downsizing and wage cuts in the department.
  • Between 660 and 720 sanitation workers called in sick because of the blizzard, more than double the normal rate.
  • Sanitation bosses issued directives to plow the streets of certain city officials.
  • Plow trucks passed over streets with the plows raised, only clearing off a top portion of the snow.

The Department of Investigation (DOI) has said it is looking into the allegations. Meanwhile Halloran says three plow drivers claim they were told to leave many roads unplowed and skip streets that were not on their routes.

“This is what happens when Bloomberg has his minions do for him and not everybody else,” said Middle Village resident who identified herself as Jennifer C. “This is New York and we’re supposed to have access to everything so why wasn’t it done? I don’t blame Sanitation, if the city would’ve done what it was supposed to it wouldn’t have been what it is.”

She said her street wasn’t cleared until the Thursday after the storm and her car’s transmission now needs to be fixed after attempting to drive it in the snow, which, according to her, will cost upwards of $1,000.

Residents are also upset knowing Manhattan was given preference in the plowing process while Queens and the outer boroughs suffered.

“Manhattan and probably the fancier areas of Queens were definitely plowed first,” said South Ozone Park resident Albert Pfisper. He added that his street, Linden Boulevard, wasn’t plowed until Thursday, December 30.

According to the New York Daily News, Sanitation Department records show that by 4 a.m. Monday, December 27, all of Manhat- tan's primary streets and 92 percent of its secondary streets had been plowed at least once. The same records show in western Queens, all primary streets were plowed by 4 a.m. Tuesday, December 28, but just 47 percent of secondary streets had been plowed.

“Throughout the district I represent snow removal was not done efficiently,” Crowley said. “The situation was not unique to any one neighborhood, it was everywhere outside of Manhattan.”

Ulrich said New Yorkers want someone to blame and shouldn’t be pointing the finger at sanitation workers.

“The city is looking for a bad guy,” Ulrich said. “I do not believe for a second that the city was effectively shutdown because angry supervisors were laid off. It did not happen across the board. It wasn’t a citywide slowdown that brought the city to a screeching halt. I am not prepared to let [the Bloomberg administration] off the hook for their decisions.”

Garbage piling up

Trash has not been collected in many areas throughout Queens for nearly two weeks since before the storm and can be seen piling up on city streets.

The DOS resumed garbage collection on Monday and Mayor Bloomberg said he expects all the trash to be picked up within three to four days; however, recyclables will not be collected until further notice.

“They should have started picking up garbage on Saturday (January 1),” Crowley said. “All the major streets were plowed by then. It’s uncomfortable and smelly and it’s becoming a public health concern.”

While trash is being cleared from streets such as Queens Boulevard, Woodhaven Boulevard and Crossbay Boulevard, there are still many where garbage is piling up such as Metropolitan Avenue, Myrtle Avenue and Liberty Avenue.

Mountains of trash and recyclables are rising above cars at the intersection of Liberty Avenue and Lefferts Boulevard near the A Train stop.

“It’s in the way and I’m running out of space in my garbage can,” Pfisper said. “They’re not picking up Tuesday and there’s two weeks of recyclables we have, which will probably not be picked up until next Tuesday.

Mayor Bloomberg did back off of statements he made that the storm wasn’t the end of the world and acknowledges the city should have been better prepared.

“We did not do as good a job as we wanted to or as the city had the right to expect,”
Bloomberg said from a hardware store in Hunts Point, Bronx on December 29. “And there is no question we are an administration built on accountability. When something works, we take credit for it. When it doesn’t, we stand up and say, ‘Okay, we did it, and we will try to find out what went wrong and then make that information public.’ I cannot tell you for sure why it was a lot worse this time than the other times.”

No comments: