After seeing no government-dispatched plow for days, Diane Thomas and her neighbors on Allanwood Drive area decided to free themselves.
The retired insurance worker, 65, joined a plumber, a school worker, a legal administrator and a rotating crew of more than a dozen other neighbors, who spent most of Tuesday shoveling so they’d be unbound by Wednesday’s commute.
It was good for neighborhood bonding but bad for her view of the way her local government, Montgomery County, functions.
“If we could have trusted them and believed that by 7 a.m. the road would have been clear, we wouldn’t have done that,” Thomas said of the heavy labor in their Norwood Park-area community.
Neighbors shoveling Allanwood Drive in Montgomery County. (Diane Thomas)
She cleared the street in front of three houses, and others took other sections of the block. Neighbors repeatedly sent in requests for county plowing, but they didn’t receive a response, she said.
“You’re going, ‘I don’t know if they’re coming our not. We don’t know if we’re forgotten,'” she said.
It was not a theoretical concern. One neighbor on an adjoining street reachable only through Allanwood Drive needed to get home because she ran out of medicine. Another was flying back in from a trip and didn’t know whether she’d be able to reach her home.
Thomas said she understands that, given the rarity of such snow dumps, it wouldn’t make sense to keep a vast fleet of county-run plows on hand. Still, she said she had never been stranded so long before. “Oh heck no. I’ve lived in Buffalo, I’ve lived in Denver, I’ve lived in Chicago,” she said.
Thomas also believed the “plow status” for her street, listed on a county website Wednesday as “1st Pass Compete,” was wrong, since the neighbors were the ones who did the work. But even if a plow came through overnight with no one noticing, she said, the county still fell short.
“Why aren’t you communicating better?” she asked. “Whenever you have a crisis of any sort it’s critical that you communicate clearly with the public, and that’s where the county is failing miserably.”
A Montgomery spokesman, Patrick Lacefield, said “we did do a first pass before this morning” on Allanwood Drive and another is scheduled for later Wednesday.
Jonathan “Stoney” Johnstone, who lives in Montgomery’s Argyle Village neighborhood, said his neighborhood was forgotten.
“It’s kind of a makeshift, one-way road, and it was done by us,” he said. Some neighbors said a few people used two snowblowers to clear off part of the street.
“I’m not happy … I’m paying like $4,500 a year in real estate taxes,” said Johnstone, a keyboardist and bassist in a Who tribute band called Going Mobile. He called the county’s plowing efforts “totally unacceptable.”
“This community seems to have just dropped off the radar of Montgomery County. This is not he first time this has happened,” he said.
Lacefield said two things happened in Johnstone’s neighborhood.
First, “we had a truck there to plow, which broke down,” and had to be pulled out. Second, snow cleared by neighbors or their contractor was piled up. “They cleared a bunch of the stuff and it was in the middle of the road, and it’s not just a plowing job at this point. It’s also a hauling job,” requiring a Bobcat and truck, Lacefield said. Workers were headed there Wednesday afternoon, he added.
Lacefield said the county had performed well trying to make the streets at least passable.
“We did pretty good at meting the 7 a.m. goal,” Lacefield said. But, he added, with 5,200-lane miles to cover, some oversights were inevitable. “We’re taking down addresses and sending out plows immediately to mop those up.”
Lacefield also said the criticism that the county did not confirm plow-arrival times to residents beforehand was misplaced.
“If people want information back that a plow will be there by 9 p.m., they’re not going to get that. If that’s the expectation, nobody got that,” Lacefield said. “We’ve got our 218 routes and drivers working 24/7. They’re going to get there as fast as they can.”