Tag Archive | "winter"

Storms Busting Snow Budgets

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Higgins_Sag Harbor Snow Plows_0937

By Kathryn G. Menu

Taking the reins from decades-long village employee Jim Early this fall, Sag Harbor Superintendent of Public Works Dee Yardley has experienced what Sag Harbor Mayor Brian Gilbride called “baptism by fire,” as Long Island experienced record snowfalls in December and January. This which has had a chilling impact on snow removal budgets.

With a storm that battered the northeast, raining down ice on the East End Tuesday and Wednesday, the National Weather Service reporting a 30 percent chance of snow on Saturday, and even more snowfall early next week, it does not appear there is an end in sight.

“And we have probably six more weeks to go,” said Mayor Gilbride.

Winter storms in late December and January brought anywhere from five to 12 inches of snow to Long Island, areas further west hit even harder in the tempests.

“It is certainly the worst winter weather-wise that I have seen since I have been on the board,” said Mayor Gilbride. “We are breaking records all over the place.”

In addition to breaking snow accumulation statistics, the seemingly continuous winter weather, broken up by just a few days of frigid sunshine in-between, has also impacted village and town budgets for snowfall removal.

In Sag Harbor Village, which has a budget year that begins each July as opposed to towns who begin budget years in January, the Department of Public Works has already blown through more than half of its budgeted monies for snow removal supplies and employee overtime.

According to Sag Harbor Village Clerk Beth Kemper, the village has budgeted $15,000 for supplies and has already spent $9,396. Overtime was budgeted at $45,000 for 2010-2011, and  $ 16,118.06 has already been spent.

And that was before the storm that hit the northeast Tuesday and Wednesday.

On Tuesday, Mayor Gilbride said while he does expect the village will exceed its budget for snow removal this year it does have a $50,000 contingency line to deal with such a situation.

Mayor Gilbride added that moving into budget talks later this month, one plan he would like to see implemented next year is municipally run sidewalk plowing in the village downtown, as well as around Sag Harbor schools.

By law, business owners and residents are responsible for clearing their own sidewalks, but after the January storm the village did clear some sidewalks around Sag Harbor. Mayor Gilbride said some residents, whose sidewalks they were unable to get to, chastised the village.

“It’s something we all have to work on,” he said. “We all have to do a better job — the village and the community at large. Today, I was driving down Jermain Avenue and kids were walking in the street to school, and rightfully so because a lot of the sidewalks were covered in two inches of snow and ice.”

In Southampton Town, Highway Superintendent Alex Gregor said during the December storm, his department logged over 1,500 hours in regular and overtime hours and spent $57,000 in outside contractors. The total cost of the storm was $212,469, he said.

While the January snowfall was equally devastating to the area, Gregor said because it did not occur during the holidays, it was less costly. About $178,295 was spent clearing roads and sidewalks during that two-day storm.

His snow removal budget, Gregor estimated, will most certainly be exceeded this year.

“We have already asked for more money for salt,” he said. “We had $150,000 budgeted and we are asking for $240,000.”

The now three-year-long town hiring freeze frustrates Gregor, particularly during this kind of weather. Some districts within the town, he said, have just five or six employees working to keep the roads and sidewalks cleared and parking lots plowed when they used to have 12.

“When you have five people doing what 10 did, it is discouraging,” added Gregor. “But we keep going, because that is what we do.”

In East Hampton, Superintendent of Highways Scott King said that the cost of the last storm remains uncertain, but according to his estimates, the department spent a little over $100,000 in January combating snow and ice on town roads. He said he calculates that for every inch of snow, it costs the town about $13,400.

The town’s highway fund expenditures were budgeted this year at $5,525,397, although King noted costs for snow removal are located throughout several line items, including $65,000 budgeted solely for subcontracts for snow removal and $200,000 budgeted for snow removal supplies.

This week, the town board approved several budget transfers in the wake of the record snowfall, including $50,000 in surplus for snow and ice removal supplies, as well as $15,000 for subcontractors to plow parking lots and private roads.

With a hefty surplus, King is not worried that the town will be unable to keep roads cleared, but that if this pace keeps up, his budget will be tight and supplies like salt could be harder to come by, despite the town’s contract with the New York State Office of General Services.

On Tuesday, King said he was combing through the town’s contract with the state agency after finding promised loads of salt were not being delivered in a timely fashion, and believes he may be able to source the salt elsewhere and charge back to that state agency.

“It is tough to sit in this chair and look at the weather reports and think about safety and the budget at the same time,” said King. “You have be conscientious, but you also have to make it all work, and at the end of the day you are either a hero or a zero.”

As for this week, it is King’s hope snow will give way to rain.

“Hail and rain,” he hoped. “I would do a rain dance in front of Saks Fifth Avenue if I could assure it would guarantee us rain this weekend.”

HarborFrost Plans to Bring Spark to Winter

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By Claire Walla

HarborFest … in February?

That’s the idea.

This winter, the Sag Harbor Chamber of Commerce aims to hold the first of what it hopes will become an annual tradition based on the successful September event. This one will instead be called HarborFrost.

This year’s proposed one day Frost, tentatively set for Saturday, February 5 from 3 to 7 p.m., will revolve around the theme “Fire and Ice,” an idea that will manifest itself through the event’s main spectacles. In addition to flanking Main Street with two ice sculptures (as of yet with undetermined designs), the event will be capped-off by a fire works display that will light-up the winter sky over Long Wharf. Event planners are also floating the idea of having a hot soup contest (in the same vein of HarborFest’s chowder contest), and will encourage local restaurants to offer post-fireworks prix fixe menus.

“The goal is to get some sort of winter activity to give Sag Harbor families something to do in the wintertime,” said chamber member Phil Bucking, owner of the Sag Harbor Gardening Center and one of the catalysts behind this year’s event.

Plans to implement HarborFrost are not yet set in stone, though the Chamber of Commerce hopes to have insurance and logistical documentation to the village trustees by Friday, a few days before the board’s meeting on Monday, January 10 at 6 p.m.

Sag Harbor Chamber of Commerce President Robert Evjen said that he and other chamber members have been toying with the idea of creating a winter festival for a few years now. Based on the success of HarborFest, held each September, HarborFrost will bring people to Main Street for a day of shopping, eating and celebrating — in spite of the cold.

“We want an event that will help our businesses in the winter months,” Evjen added. The event could be especially helpful for stores looking to clean-out last year’s summer merchandise in preparation for the coming year. Keeping with the theme of fire and ice, one of the chamber’s ideas is for stores to sell summer (fire) merchandise alongside winter (ice) goods.
Previous attempts to create such a Frost have included more ambitious activities, like a Polar Bear Plunge and plans to bring an ice-skating rink to Main Street. But these ideas never came to fruition, Bucking said.

“Funding has been an issue, and it’s sometimes hard to get people involved,” he added.

This year, however, event organizers have a clear and simple plan of action, with several financial pledges already in place.

The total cost will run about $14,000, more than half of which is already expected to be covered by financial pledges.

Prudential Douglas Elliman, Brown Harris Stevens, Hampton Gym Corp and the Sag Harbor Express have pledged money that will go toward the cost of the ice sculptures (which will cost a total of $7,000); and local non-profit Save Sag Harbor has signed on to cover all media costs (which are budgeted at $2,000). What’s more, the Grucci family, which estimated the cost of a five to seven minute firework show at $5,000, said it would match any amount over that $5,000 total dollar-for-dollar. (In other words, if the chamber raises $7,500, the Grucci’s will put on a $10,000 show.)

Other Main Street businesses have reportedly expressed interest in making small financial contributions, should the village approve plans for HarborFrost at its trustee meeting on Monday.

“Since this is the first year, the plan is to do more and make the event bigger [each subsequent year],” Bucking explained. “This time, we just want to get the ball rolling.”

January Man

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By Richard Gambino

Deep into January. The holiday season is gone. (In Babylon — the ancient city, not the town off the LIE — people celebrated new year’s for eleven days and nights. Talk about hangovers!) People walk the streets of our East End towns well-bundled and stooping forward, in a hurry against the cold. The nights are still long. But they’re growing shorter, if no warmer, with each day. January 21 is a day perceptively longer than December 21’s day of winter solstice. But despite it seeming a time when all is still, January is also a time of new beginnings. In fact, the month was named for the ancient Roman god, Janus, who was nothing less than the god of new beginnings, and of doorways opening to new vistas.

So I’m deep into a tranquil relationship with a quiet earth. I learned long ago that doors are more likely to open if one doesn’t bang on them. Nature is my inspiration. There’s new life to come in the stark trees. In life’s own time. New flowers too, and the forlorn osprey nests will once again become scenes of fledgling life. Even the evergreen trees seem to be in thoughtful pause, confident they will generate new pale-green growth. In time.

I put on layered clothes and hiking shoes and set out for the trails of the Morton Preserve, where birds and squirrels follow me, hoping I’ve brought some food for them. Over the warmer months, they became used to people bringing seed so that the birds would eat out of their hands, and inevitably drop some on the ground. But winter is a hungrier time for them — fewer people, especially on weekdays and poor-weather days. The trail at Barcelona State Park is another favorite, ending in a view of far-away Cedar Point Lighthouse. From this distance, the sunlit earth-toned building looks as fresh as it must have looked in the nineteenth century. And I love the walking trails at the Camp Hero State Park in Montauk, from which one has great views of the Montauk Lighthouse, the ocean, and boulders left high on the bluffs as the glacier of the last ice age retreated. I look at the concrete bases that used to anchor massive coastal artillery during World War II, and I think of people who were adults during the earlier part of the war telling me of standing on Long Island beaches at night, watching small spots of flames at the horizon of the sea, cargo ships and tankers torpedoed by German submarines. A terrible, dark time I don’t remember — the Germans surrendered in a process which spanned my sixth birthday in early May 1945. And at what was the military Camp Hero is the largest radar dish I’ve ever seen, used in the Cold War — which I remember all too well. In fact, before the late 1980s, I never dreamed that I would one day write about it in the past tense. The dish is now long-abandoned, still aimed at the sky.

Janus is depicted in Roman art as having two faces, at the same time one looking forward and the other looking behind. We humans can also look to both the future and the past. It’s called “reflection,” and “taking stock.” The natural places I’ve mentioned and others on the East End bring it on in me, without my trying. For me, it best happens in the midst of nature in its time of quiet pause. The woods also lead me to be more naturally patient, a requirement if the experience is to bring me to … well, I don’t know in advance. Lately, I find my mind going to the economic suffering all around me, to the unemployed, to parents of young children, to parents of college students, to retirees, to the owners of small shops, to the people in all the homes in the Sag Harbor area — and all over the East End — with “for sale” signs on the lawns. It is a dark time for many of us. But I remind myself of an old saying: “Only when it gets really dark can we see the stars.” I bring myself up short. Am I becoming a dotty sentimentalist? In reaction, I find myself musing that maybe I’d be better off if I had started a consulting firm called, “Blagojevich & Madoff.” That tells me for sure that it’s time to refocus on nature.

A couple of winters back, I waited for weeks to take a photograph I had scouted out. All I needed was some snow. I waited. And waited. I grew impatient, and pessimistic that I’d ever get a chance to “get the shot” — a nature photographer’s obsession. Then, one day, snow came. I watched the flakes fall, enjoying it, growing ever more eager. As soon as it stopped, I took up my camera bag and tripod, and set out for the scene I knew so well. Oh, I got the shot. Just an ordinary one. The real gift of the day was another photo I saw on the way, one that I had not anticipated. A gem of a shot — a perfect winter barn scene, with pristine fresh snow and slanted winter light. The picture later won me a ribbon in competition. But for me the greater reward is remembering that day, and letting myself believe that maybe there might be another bright picture just down the road.

So I allow myself hope, in a mental process that for some reason I need to go through. Maybe it’s because I’ve all my adult life read a lot of realistic history and ideas. I still don’t dodge hard looks at hard realities, but as the years have gone by, I’ve grown better at seeing the stars in the darkness. The really important salients in life grow brighter, like the people I love, the more visible humanity I see in the eyes of many people — and the sublimity of nature in all seasons, a living current going back long before the Babylonians and Romans. The current goes on. We are part of its vital present, and its flow into the future. As in nature at large, there is in our individual lives, and in the life we share with others, times of pause, times to reflect and prepare for the next season. For, after every winter comes a spring.

Here’s to life.



RICHARD GAMBINO believes with the ancient Roman Stoics that, “The mind is dyed by the colors of its thoughts.”