Sandy Post Mortem: Public Works
Township employees looked at what worked and what fell short during the tropical storm and look towards the future.
The first 90 minutes of the Springfield Township Committee meeting on Tuesday, Nov. were devoted to a review on Springfield’s response to Sandy.
The consensus among department heads and officials was that lessons from the previous year’s major disruptive weather events, Irene and the October Snowstorm, where learned and applied, but that additional resources were needed to prepare the township for future storms. The departments all noted that storage and procurement of fuel and generators presented a challenge in the storm and would factor heavily in planning for coming storms.
Public Works director Ken Homlish detailed how his crews’ extensive preparation for the storm was informed by the township’s experience with Irene. To stave off the flooding that paralyzed the town after Irene, public works crews cleared 300 yards of leaves from Springfield streets and cleared catch basins as well as the flood gates on Riverside drive.
While flooding wasn’t a problem in this storm, Sandy’s powerful winds had an equally devastating effect. Homlish said that felled trees and power lines closed down 18 roads in town, including two county roads. Public works prioritized opening those roads in the first day of the storm before spending the next week clearing trees. Fuel was not in steady supply, but the crews cleared more debris than in either of the 2011 storms, hauling 4200 yards of debris compared to 3200 in the previous year’s snowstorm and 1500 during Irene.
In addition to utilizing fully staffed crews, Homlish brought in contractors to clear streets and township properties. In addition, while he admitted to some initial apprehension about the prospect, Homlish also utilized township volunteers in tree clearings.
When touching on needed changes, Homlish said his department needed ready access to fuel and backup generators as well as cell phones for emergency communications. He said that many of the stumps remaining from trees downed in the storms were beyond his department’s capacity for removal and that he needed to bring in contractors to remove them. He said he believed FEMA was likely to reimburse the town for the expense.
Township Committee member David Amlen asked if there were plans in place to replace the trees, noting that the tree roots were critical for water storage and flood mitigation. Homlish said while 45 trees were slated to come in later this month and that his department was looking into whether FEMA would reimburse Springfield for replacing them.
“The trees are a valuable asset for the town,” Homlish said.