By Bill Kirk
---- — Public works officials, plowing contractors and private property owners are carefully watching forecasts as Mother Nature could dump 6 to 12 inches of snow across the region this weekend.
Huge piles from the blizzard two weeks ago still remain in many parking lots and disposal areas, meaning it will be more difficult to get rid of the snow if a significant amount falls.
“Snow is tough to get rid of,” said Tom Jarek, owner of TJ’s Landscaping, 39 Kenwood Road, Methuen. “You used to be able to dump in the Merrimack River years ago. Now, you’ve got to find spots.”
It’s not just private contractors looking for places to put their snow overflow.
City and town public works officials say they are also hoping for a lower snowfall amount from the weekend storm, since they could soon run out of places to put it.
In Andover, snow is trucked from the downtown shopping district to an open area off High Street, which is also used by Andover contractors.
“We only allow Andover snow to be dumped there,” said Acting Andover Public Works Director Chris Cronin. “And there’s only so much room.”
He said police, bulldozer operators and even the contractors themselves police the dumping area to make sure that only Andover snow is left behind.
“If we have many foreign loads come in, we have to shut it down,” Cronin said, “and then downtown businesses will be upset because we won’t be able to remove the snow.”
As of yesterday, he said, there was still “plenty of room” in the snow dump for another storm.
“We’ve only hauled twice this year,” he said. “The first haul was tiny. The blizzard was significant, but it wasn’t 8, 8-inch storms. We’re not in that position.”
Andover, like many communities, worked around the clock to clear snow from streets and sidewalks around its congested downtown after the blizzard hit. With winter technically over in about a month, the town has spent $900,000 of its $1.25 million snow removal budget.
“We still have $325,000 left in the account,” he said.
Bruce Thibodeau, public works director in North Andover, said the town has spent about $800,000 on snow removal this year, which is about $50,000 over the annual $750,000 budget.
He said the downtown has been cleaned up and sidewalks around all the schools have been cleared. He said he expects the weekend storm “will be plowable” and won’t require extreme measures like the blizzard to remove the snow via dump truck to the town’s dumping site off Sharpner’s Pond Road.
“We’re having a little planning meeting on it today,” he said. “It is what it is. I’m not even 100 percent sure we’re getting snow.”
The town’s snow-dump still has plenty of room, he said, although private contractors are not allowed to dump at the site.
In Methuen, snow hauled from downtown is taken to an area adjacent to the city yard on Lindberg Avenue. Public Works director Ray DiFiore said the area is small, but has been adequate to take this year’s snowfall so far.
“We cleaned the downtown area, Broadway in front of the Post Office, Charles Street, and a couple of other areas like the pumping stations,” he said. “So far, it’s been enough.”
In the past, if the city runs out of room for snow storage, it uses playgrounds or parks in the city that have large parking areas.
He said private contractors are not allowed to use public spaces to dump snow.
“They see us doing it, and think it’s OK, but guess what, it’s not,” DiFiore said.
He said years ago, when he worked in Lawrence, city trucks would dump snow in a municipal parking lot under the Casey Bridge, where a bulldozer waited to push it into the river.
That’s not allowed anymore. Two years ago, a private contractor was seen dumping snow into the river, which in turn got several city employees into trouble for their role in the dumping.
This year, the Lawrence Public Works plows are moving as much snow as possible from city streets during storms and is dumping some in a parking lot off Exeter Street in South Lawrence.
Norman Lee, the owner of Northeast Landscaping, 314 Clark St., North Andover, said dumping in the river “is an absolute no-no.”
Instead, he said, contractors must find their own places to get rid of the snow they take from their commercial clients’ properties, if needed.
“We push back on private parking lots,” he said. “A lot of companies have down-sized and aren’t using all their parking lots, so we use those areas and pack the piles as high as possible.”
Lee, who will have up to 70 plowers and equipment operators out, including subcontractors, during a big snowstorm, said he’s sent out bills of $60,000 to $80,000 for snow clearing and removal from the last blizzard.
“It takes a lot of manpower in a storm like that,” he said, adding that many of the places he typically dumps snow are filled, even with the warm temperatures of the last week or so.