Labor secretary will aid stalled port talks

With the West Coast dock strike reaching a critical point, the White House announced Saturday that Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez will start talks with the two sides.

“The negotiations over the functioning of the West Coast Ports have been taking place for months with the Administration urging the parties to resolve their differences,” Eric Schultz, the principal deputy press secretary at the White House, said in a statement. “Out of concern for the economic consequences of further delay, the President has directed his Secretary of Labor Tom Perez travel to California to meet with the parties to urge them to resolve their dispute quickly at the bargaining table.”

“Secretary Perez is already in contact with the parties and will keep the President fully updated,” Schultz added.

Dockworkers and port operators have been in negotiations over a new contract since May, but talks have stalled, resulting in accusations of work slowdowns and lockouts.

The dispute has caused backups in shipping, turning the waterways off the coast into parking lots for container ships and other vessels.

Retailers, concerned about having to reroute shipments or not getting them at all, expressed gratitude for the White House stepping in.

“We welcome the administration’s attention to this important national and international economic and supply chain issue and hope it recommits the two sides to reaching a deal,” Jonathan Gold, the National Retail Federation’s vice president for supply chain, said in a statement. “The slowdowns, congestion and suspensions at the West Coast ports need to end now.”

— Juliet Eilperin

New England gets snow, high winds

A Valentine’s Day storm brought snow and dangerously high winds to New England for the fourth time in less than a month, the latest blow to a region that has already seen more than six feet of snow in some areas.

A blizzard warning was in effect for coastal areas from Connecticut to Maine through Monday morning, promising eight to 14 inches in southern New England and up to two feet in Maine. A bone-chilling blast of cold will follow, with lows of minus 10 degrees forecast in some areas Sunday night.

National Weather Service meteorologist William Babcock said road conditions will be dangerous as steady, widespread winds whip the relatively dry snow around. “On Sunday, the best thing people can do is stay home, stay indoors,” he said.

Babcock said gusts could max out at 75 mph — hurricane territory — on Cape Cod. Officials warned of possible power outages, and north-facing or vulnerable coastal areas could suffer flooding and beach erosion, the Weather Service said.

The bad weather spanned several states, with winter storm warnings extending west into Michigan and Ohio, where whiteout conditions led to a pileup on the Ohio Turnpike that killed at least two people. Another crash involving several tractor-trailers was reported on Interstate 70 just west of Columbus, and a storm-related crash on the New York Thruway south of Buffalo killed one person.

In New England, transportation officials took many precautions. Boston’s Logan International Airport said more than 400 Sunday flights were canceled, and none was scheduled Sunday morning. And the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority canceled all rail, bus and ferry service in the Boston area for Sunday.

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker urged motorists to stay off roads during the storm but stopped short of an outright travel ban.

Crews have worked urgently to remove the massive amounts of snow that have clogged streets and triggered numerous roof collapses.

Massachusetts called up hundreds of National Guard troops to assist with snow removal, and Hanscom Air Force Base outside Boston became a staging area for heavy equipment pouring in from eight other Northeast states to help in the effort.

In southern New Hampshire, where up to 18 inches of new snow could fall, employees at a tree service volunteered to clear the snow from the roof of Londonderry South Elementary School. Dave Burl of Accurate Tree Service told WMUR-TV that the roof was engineered to hold 44 pounds per square foot and that the weight was approaching 30 pounds per square foot even before the storm.

With the weather promising to show little love on Valentine’s Day, Baker on Friday proclaimed “Valentine’s Week” in Massachusetts and encouraged people to celebrate the holiday by buying gifts and dining out all of next week.

— Reuters

Candidate in Colorado withdraws because he is on parole: A candidate in the race to replace a Colorado Springs city councilwoman targeted for a recall is withdrawing because he is on parole. According to the Colorado Springs Gazette, Myron Pierce remains on parole for a 2001 armed robbery conviction in Omaha. Colorado law says that anyone jailed for a felony or serving parole is not eligible to register to vote. To run for office in Colorado Springs, candidates must be registered voters. Pierce said he thought he could run and filled out a form to register to vote Wednesday, which was denied. Recall advocates targeting Colorado Springs City Councilwoman Helen Collins say they are unhappy with her performance.

Mexican gray wolf population increases: From the 1970s until 1998, not a single Mexican gray wolf roamed the Southwest. Now there are more 100 of them in Arizona and New Mexico, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced. Benjamin Tuggle, the agency’s southwest regional director, said the Mexican Wolf Interagency Field Team has counted 109 of the wolves in Arizona and New Mexico. He added that there may still be more uncounted in the latest winter survey. Tuggle said this is the largest number of wolves observed since the animal’s reintroduction to the region began in 1998.

— Associated Press