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Posted at 01:48 PM ET, 02/11/2010

Graham sets hearings on snow response

D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) announced Thursday he will hold a series hearings to evaluate how the city responded to consecutive blizzards this month.

Graham, chairman of the Committee on Public Works and Transportation, wants to figure out why snow-removal efforts appear worse this month than they did after the 20-inch snowstorm the city endured Dec. 19.

"While the city handled the blizzard on December 19, 2009, with great skill and efficiency, snow removal following the one-two punch of storms on February 5 and again on the 10th has left many residents wondering if we could have done more," Graham said. "The duty of public officials is to be prepared for the unexpected."

In recent days, Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) has come under some criticism, both locally and nationally, over the city's snow-removal efforts.

But city officials say it's not fair to compare one storm to another.

After the Dec. 19 storm, for example, temperatures rose above freezing for several consecutive days, making it easier for salt to eat through the snow-pack. Some areas of the city also reported about 6 more inches on Saturday then they did Dec. 19.

The District is not the only big city with angry residents worried that their streets are not being cleaned fast enough.

Pittsburgh, which averages twice as much snow annually as Washington, is also struggling to clean up after it received almost two feet of snow Saturday, according to articles in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Many residents are also snowbound in Baltimore and Philadelphia.

D.C. officials note that many of Washington's suburbs -- which arguably have more places to pile snow than the city -- have also had a hard time keeping up with the snow this month. Maryland Gov. Martin J. O'Malley (D) bluntly told residents Thursday that many residents in that state will not have their roads plowed until this weekend.

Still, several D.C. Council members are wondering whether the city could be doing more to clean up.

Council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8), a former mayor who was widely criticized for his efforts to clean up from snowstorms, said Fenty should have contracted a fleet of lightweight plows to work in District neighborhoods as soon as he heard that the region could be in for a historic snowstorm.

"What I learned from (snowstorms in) 1987 and 2006 is the District doesn't have enough equipment," Barry said. "I learned these big plows can't get through these small streets."

The District has about 270 pieces of equipment, both city-owned and contracted, for plowing and spreading salt, including backhoes and front-loaders.

But Gabe Klein, director of the Department of Transportation, noted that some streets have more than 25 inches of snow on them.

"This is no longer just a plow operation," said Gabe Klein, director of the Department of Transportation. "There is too much snow accumulation on some streets for the plows to adequately move the snow. The snow has to be physically removed and hauled away. ... This will add some time to our cleanup efforts, but we have crews working round-the-clock."

Council members Harry Thomas (D-Ward 5) and Kwame Brown (D-At Large) have also called on Fenty to request more resources from the federal government to help with the cleanup.

Graham, a general Fenty ally on the council, said he hopes the administration and the council can work together to assess how the cleanup was handled. Graham's first hearing on the matter s will be held Feb. 26. A second hearing has been scheduled for 11 a.m. March 10. Those wishing to testify should contact the committee office at 202-724-8195.

-- Tim Craig

By Washington Post Editors  |  01:48 PM ET, 02/11/2010

Categories:  Tim Craig, Tim Craig, Tim Craig, Tim Craig, Tim Craig

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