Opinion: Learning lessons from winter storm Jonas

Newark is struggling to recover from nearly 30 inches of snow dropped by Jonas. With several days having passed since the storm, residents are still reporting that their streets have not been plowed.

People are unable to get to work, children are unable to go to school and fire fighters and ambulances are unable to reach their emergencies. This is a disaster.

I grew up in the snow belt of West Michigan and large blizzards were common. I was used to having a couple of slow and messy days following a major storm. The response to Jonas reminds me of the storms in Michigan with two important caveats:

  • The largest snowfall event in my hometown was only 17 inches. 
  • Despite being the second largest city in Michigan, Grand Rapids has a more suburban design than Newark. Most homes have driveways, on-street parking is limited and the large front yards provide room for the snow.

Ironboundsnow.pngWhat this means is that Newark’s recovery from Jonas is much more difficult and will take a longer time than the storms I grew up with in Michigan. People in Newark are not used to storms like this, partly because we have never had a blizzard of this magnitude. This can be seen in the large number of people driving rear wheel drive vehicles with bald tires and acting surprised when they got stuck. It can also be seen in the expectation that this storm is cleaned up immediately.

Newark faces significant problems including a small tax base and high costs. Despite high taxes, the City has previously been dependent upon funding from the State. With funding from the State drying up, Newark has had to make tougher choices to balance its budget.

Given the variety of problems faced by the city, additional funding for snow removal probably shouldn’t be a top priority. Ask any city resident if they would prefer to spend city money on additional cops or additional snow plows, they would have said cops. That is until this past Saturday.

There are many people calling for the Mayor’s resignation in response to this disastrous recovery and for the above reasons, I am skeptical of the validity of these demands. Nonetheless, it is undeniable that there are roads that are completely impassible due to a lack of snow removal. This needs to change.

While it is too late to prevent this situation, we can learn from it. Now is the time to find out what went wrong and why. To learn from this event, we need information. The City should release the following:

  • The snow removal plan the city was operating under including street prioritization and method used to determine this priority.
  • Hourly log of streets that were plowed starting Friday night and going through Tuesday morning.
  • Hourly log of active private contractors assisting the city with snow removal.

With this information, the residents can answer the following questions:

  • Were our snow removal resources continually used throughout and after the storm? If they were not all used, we can ask if it was due to labor, logistics or perhaps poor maintenance.
  • Were streets prioritized under a rational method? If the streets were prioritized under a questionable methodology, we can ask if it reflects favoritism of some type.
  • Did the city make every effort possible to increase its snow plowing capacity?

I don’t know what the answers to any of these questions are and I suspect very few people outside of the Administration would either. Nonetheless, the accusations of corruption and incompetence are swirling about. We need to know what went wrong and have the evidence to show it.

If these accusations are valid, the people responsible need to face consequences. If there were poor procedures or poor planning, we need to fix this before the next storm. If the City did its best and simply was defeated by Jonas, we need to take a deep breath and give the snow removal time.

Chris Kok is an urban planner living in the Ironbound. He is an member of PLANewark a community group that advocates for smart and just land use decisions in Newark. He also blogs at theurbanprospector.wordpress.com.

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  • commented 2016-01-28 21:44:37 -0500
    Lack of resources aren’t an excuse. They have a tower of salt on Frelinghysen Ave that coulda been used for pre-treatment of roads. They have front loaders, plows, even garbage trucks to get rid of it and dump it in the Passaic or empty lots. There were reports of trucks passing through with their metal plows up in the air instead of clearing during the storm. Just typical incompetence and laziness from this city; never taking a proactive approach.

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