‘Four trillion tons of snow’

North Bergen DPW clears streets after record-breaking blizzard

By 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Sarai Colon had already put in more than 12 hours straight, working more than 42 hours in three days – and her crew still had half a dozen blocks to clear before calling it quits.
An enforcement officer for the North Bergen Parking Authority, she was one of about 45 township employees working hard to clear Bergenline Avenue of the estimated 27 inches of snow dumped on the township by Winter Storm Jonas over the weekend.
North Bergen’s slopes and hills always make for a challenge when snow coats the streets.
The storm crew also included police officers and DPW employees, supplemented by contractors from North Jersey Recycling.
“It’s good to see everyone moving together,” said Colon, one of only two women working what she called “Operation Clean-up.” Prior to Bergenline they had spent the days since the storm clearing parking lots with a Bobcat and shovels so cars could get in and out.
The Bergenline operation was a more sophisticated, assembly-line process. Workers with shovels and snow blowers cleared the sidewalks, moving snow into the street. Four Bobcats then pushed the snow into large piles. Three payloaders shoveled those piles into two small DPW dump trucks and four larger vehicles known as roll-off containers, owned by the contractor.
The snow then got dumped in the Bruins Stadium parking lot inside James J. Braddock North Hudson Park.
How much snow was towed away? “It’s a 30-yard container,” calculated DPW mechanic and payload driver Gomez, referring to the larger dump trucks, “so it holds about 20,000 pounds. And we’ve done at least 100, minimum” on Bergenline alone.
“This is like… four trillion tons of snow,” he said with a laugh.

Bigger than anticipated

The DPW’s first focus in the immediate wake of the storm was to plow all the streets in North Bergen so cars could get through. That in itself was a major undertaking in a municipality that prides itself on being the second hilliest in the United States.
In a Facebook message posted at 2:58 p.m. on Jan. 24, after Jonas dumped its record snowfall on the township, Mayor Nicholas Sacco wrote, “NBPD has reported 46 disabled vehicles on township streets, which has made it more difficult for DPW to reach certain areas. At this point we have finished all primary roads as well as all major hills and we are now moving on to side streets and smaller blocks.”

More than a dozen industrial vehicles were involved in the Bergenline Avenue snow removal, along with about 45 employees from the DPW, parking authority, and police.
The Bergenline clean-up was part of an extended effort to fully open major, commercial thoroughfares and alleviate parking problems. The goal was to clear the avenue of snow from 71st to 91st. A notice went out to residents the night before to remove their cars from the street. Those that weren’t moved were towed out of the way then replaced on the street afterward, with owners receiving tickets but no towing fees.
“A smaller storm, we handle ourselves,” said DPW Supervisor Emil Fuda about the snow removal. “If it’s eight, 10 inches, we do everything.” In the aftermath of Jonas, “We had to use outside contractors for disposal.”
“We’re only involved when there’s a major storm or a state of emergency,” said Stephen Guido of North Jersey Recycling. “The trucks are operating with the back doors open so it’s faster. Instead of wasting time opening up the door, they just go around the corner and dump it right in that pile [in Braddock Park]. You see the pile’s getting bigger by the hour. It’s enormous.”
“We thought we were going to be done a lot sooner,” said Fuda. “There’s a lot more snow than we anticipated.”
“We wanted to get Broadway done today also,” said DPW Deputy Director Frank Englese. “Normally that is our pace, but the amount of snow is so large.” As a result, Broadway was rescheduled for clearing on Wednesday, with other major thoroughfares to follow.

Military efficiency

In the midst of the busy activity on Bergenline, with trucks buzzing past laden with snow, Mayor Sacco called a quick meeting on the street with DPW brass.
Because the cleanup on Broadway was delayed by a day, Sacco was concerned there wouldn’t be sufficient parking for teachers the next morning, when schools opened up after being closed Monday and Tuesday. “Our Lady of Fatima are very nicely letting our teachers use their lots,” he said, but that would not be enough.
“Five in the morning we’ll be there,” promised DPW Superintendent John Shaw. “We’ll do a section close to the school first. By 8 a.m. I’ll have areas opened up.”
But first they had that last stretch of Bergenline to complete. “They did this last year too, but last year it was after a couple of snow storms,” said Jorge Nova, owner of James Vincent Bicycles at 8505 Bergenline, watching an assembly line of shovelers and trucks briskly haul the snow away in front of his shop. “We didn’t get a big storm like this last year.”
Standing on the sidewalk in front of his building, retiree Ron Dietrich watched the cleanup proceed with military precision. “They are good. It’s like an all-day operation,” he said. His job, in fact, had depended on the streets being kept clean and passable. “I worked for the post office for 37 years in North Bergen and the DPW always did a great job.”
“That’s experience,” said Gomez about the efficiency of the workers. “And also camaraderie with the guys. It pays to have fun with the guys while you do it. That’s what really keeps us going.”

Art Schwartz may be reached at arts@hudsonreporter.com.

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