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City Digs Out

Officials ponder next move as rain moves in.

While Alexandrians are still digging out from all of the snow, city officials are warning of possible flooding to come.

City sidewalks are still impassable in many locations, school parking lots are just being plowed and residents are getting back to normal. But what next?

"I am generally very pleased with the work that our staff has done in clearing our streets," said Mayor Kerry J. Donley. "This has certainly been an historic storm so citizens need to expect that it will take a while for things to get back to normal. But as I drove to work today, I saw a big difference between the city streets and county streets and that difference was in our favor."

Doug McCobb, the deputy director of the department of transportation and environmental services, and in charge of snow removal said, "We have made at least one pass with our plows on every street," he said. "We are having some problems getting down the very narrow streets in Rosemont, Del Ray, Beverley Hills and in Old Town, especially where cars are parked on those streets. We have to use our front-end loaders to remove the snow and dump it into the intersections to be removed later. This is a real concern because it is very difficult for us to get our equipment down these streets," he said.

The city's snow removal budget is now gone, however. "We had $300,000 and have used all of that," said Richard Baier, the director of the department of transportation and environmental services. "Before this last snow, we had five snow events. Each of those cost about $50,000. What people forget is that there are fixed costs to removing snow whether we have three inches or a foot of accumulation."

Baier also ordered more salt and sand. "We will come up with additional money for snow removal," he said.

Mayor Donley agreed. "Once we have gotten through this, the city staff will calculate the cost and we will find the money," he said. "This is one of the reasons why reserves are so important. As the result of good fiscal policies and fiscal management, we can find the money. This is what local governments do; we take care of our citizens."

SCHOOL PARKING LOTS are scheduled to be plowed on Wednesday night, Feb. 19, but students return to the classroom is not just contingent on plowing parking lots. "I have spoken with the superintendent and a decision about opening school is very much related to Alexandrians cleaning their sidewalks," said School Board member Molly Danforth, who is a member of the school facilities committee. "I really think that individuals and business owners who do not clear their sidewalks should be fined. If kids cannot walk to their neighborhood school, we can't get them back to class."

Also, there is the issue of bus stops. "Many of those bus stops are on the very streets that we are having trouble plowing," McCobb said. "We will certainly get the parking lots plowed but we have absolutely no control over whether people clear their sidewalks."

THE POLICE DEPARTMENT responded to 41 reports of motor vehicle accidents, 20 calls to assist citizens and 11 calls for road hazards between Feb. 16 and 18. An example of a road hazard was a four-by-four vehicle with a rope attached pulling people around in a basket in the parking lot of the Giant Food store on Monroe Avenue.

"In general, things were pretty good," said Amy Bertsch, a spokesperson for the police department. "People stayed home and off the roads. If we had gotten about five inches less snow, we probably would have had more accidents because people would have thought it was alright to drive around."

City officials are concerned about this weekend's weather that calls for an inch or more of rain between Friday night and Saturday. "We need to make sure that our catch basins or storm drains are cleared so that the water can get into the streams," McCobb said. "As we finish removing the snow, we will be going back to the city streets and cleaning these catch basins. Citizens who live in developments should make sure that their storm drains are cleared and that their fire hydrants are accessible."

The city is also preparing for flooding along the Potomac. "We are putting sand bags in place and taking all of our usual precautions in case the Potomac floods," Gordon said. "Citizens should stay alert to changing conditions in the next few days."