SCHENECTADY — City Mayor Gary McCarthy is urging residents to be patient as the city continues to dig out from Thursday’s severe winter storm.
“We’re playing catchup with this storm,” McCarthy said. “It’s a record storm.”
The mayor acknowledged the sheer volume of snowfall, which dumped as much as three feet of snow in some localities in the Capital Region, resulted in the city being unable to clear some side streets.
“Our side streets are still not able to be in the shape we’d like them to be in,” McCarthy said.
Officials late Thursday continued to develop a strategy for which neighborhoods will be targeted for snow removal using city dump trucks on Friday morning, an operation McCarthy hopes will be augmented with state resources after Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency in 18 upstate counties.
The city’s Stockade neighborhood will be a likely starting point, he said.
“We’re trying to match up where [snow] can be removed tomorrow and what resources we have,” McCarthy said.
Under a state of emergency extended by the city on Thursday, people are required to move their vehicles from the street entirely to aid in snow removal efforts.
Stockade Association President Suzanne Unger said the neighborhood has traditionally been in a tough spot, and the combination of narrow, winding streets makes removal efforts challenging.
But at the same time, heavy snowfall creates a Catch-22: While city plows are unable to hit all of the side streets during snowfall, how can residents move their cars when they’ve been entirely snowed in?
College Street between Union and Green streets remained blocked on Thursday evening, making it difficult for people to move their cars before snow removal begins Friday.
“For the people who live down here, it’s a giant inconvenience,” Unger said.
Information on how many cars were ticketed or towed on Thursday was unavailable, said city police, who worked through Thursday without administration or clerical staff in the Traffic Division.
The Schenectady Municipal Parking Garage on Hamilton Street will offer free parking through Sunday and free parking will also be available at the Hon. Karen B. Johnson Schenectady County Public Library.
The storm was the biggest to slam the Capital Region since Dec. 1, 2019, the eighth-largest snowfall locally ever, according to the National Weather Service.
Yet the city last year was widely panned for its response, which left some streets going unplowed for days, prompting safety concerns and resulting in the Schenectady City School District to be closed for two consecutive days.
McCarthy said while the city has learned from its missteps, snow totals on Thursday surpassed projections.
“We mobilized with more equipment,” McCarthy said. “But this storm was just bigger than what we had from last year.”
City Councilwoman Leesa Perazzo said she has fielded negative feedback from constituents.
But the mayor has been responsive when she’s relayed those complaints, she said, including from someone whose furnace broke and required assistance getting out to purchase replacement parts.
“He was very responsive and made sure he assigned a truck,” Perazzo said.
Perazzo said the scene is similar across the Capital Region, and the city shouldn’t be singled out for a poor response.
“Everyone is still plowed in, and it’s just a humongous storm,” Perazzo said. “I don’t like the fact people can’t get out of their houses right now, but I can’t get out of my house, either. I think it’s universal across the Capital Region right now — but it’s still less than perfect.”
Others were sharper in their criticism.
“I wish city chickens and hens should be put to rest and the city can concentrate more on alternate side parking, and make all streets Priority Streets,” said Goose Hill Neighborhood Association President Camille Sasinowski, referring to recent deliberation by the City Council on whether backyard poultry-keeping should be legalized. “They should be spending time on quality-of-life issues.”
The city’s Priority Streets program requires motorists on 16 designated thoroughfares to move their cars after three inches of snowfall. Parking can resume only after the storm has ended and the entire length of the street has been cleared of snow to the curb.
All city streets should be prioritized, Sasinowski said, not just main drags like Van Vranken Avenue, Broadway, State Street and Crane Street.
City Councilman John Polimeni said his own street in the city’s Goose Hill neighborhood hadn’t been touched by a city plow as of Thursday evening.
“It’s very bad,” Polimeni said. “Quite frankly, we just got overwhelmed. People are very unhappy, as they should be.”
Polimeni said it may be time for the city to research new snow removal technology.
“If plows aren’t able to handle it, we might need to look into different equipment,” Polimeni said.
While he praised efforts of city workers on the ground, City Council President John Mootooveren acknowledged last year’s response wasn’t managed properly and hoped city crews would work around the clock until the snow is cleared.
“We don’t want to see anyone left behind for a week or so,” Mootoveren said. “I’m hoping by [Friday] or so the entire city can be cleared out and people can go back to their lives.”
Responses were not hobbled by city employees being forced to quarantine as a result of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, said McCarthy, who estimated two or three employees of the city’s Bureau of General Services were sidelined, as well as an unspecified number of police personnel.
“Out of a 600-member workforce, it’s an expected level of absences,” said McCarthy, who urged residents to be patient and avoid unnecessary travel.
Waste collection in Schenectady will resume Friday, and Saturday for District 4 in the city and the Village of Scotia.