City Manager reviews East Providence's response to Blizzard of 2013

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EAST PROVIDENCE — Considering the amount of snow and how quickly it fell, the various departments of East Providence government performed admirably during the Blizzard of 2013, "Nor'easter Nemo," on Feb. 8 and 9, according to City Manager Peter Graczykowski.

Mr. Graczykowski presented a report during the Feb. 20 City Council meeting on the East Providence's response to the winter storm event, which heaped almost two feet of snow on the area in a matter of 24 hours.

"I want to acknowledge the tremendous work done by public works and our public safety departments during the blizzard," said Mr. Graczykowski, who also made special mention of East Providence Emergency Management Agency Director Wayne Barnes' showing throughout the weekend.

Front and center due to the mass of the event, the Department of Public Works was lauded from many corners for its performance during "Nemo." DPW Director Steve Coutu and his staff faced the daunting challenge keeping pace with the storm, which at its height was leaving several inches of snow an hour on city streets.

Acting East Providence Fire Chief Oscar Elmasian reiterated his gratitude to DPW, assisting many a fire department vehicle that got stuck during the storm. Chief Elmasian noted one specific instance when a DPW truck escorted a rescue to and from Rhode Island Hospital in the midst of an intense period of snow.

Two recommendations for DPW out of the storm were to change its vehicle use strategy and to secure more reliable private vendor help in like instances. Mr. Graczykowski said time next during an storm of similar magnitude, DPW should put all of its heavy duty vehicles into service immediately. Also, the city may need to pay private contractors a higher rate or use them more regularly to keep their ties to the city stronger in the future.

"Most public works department around the state are equipped top handle around a foot of snow. Obviously this was not a normal storm," Mr. Graczykowski. "The sheer volume of the snow was overwhelming with the amount and size of the equipment we have."

As to be expected during a blizzard, some complaints were leveled at DPW which did have merit. Plowing eventually fell well behind the amount of snowfall, leaving several side roads impassible.

Other claims had DPW trucks sitting idly by while snow fell or some driving around with plows up. Another reported instance had a city employee, working under the East Providence Housing Authority, spotted clearing private property while presumably still on the clock.

In a follow-up interview following Tuesday's meeting, Mr. Graczykowski acknowledged hearing the complaints. He said he continues to investigated many of them and he confirmed the housing authority employee had received a reprimand. None of the cases, however, at this point appeared to reach the level of a fireable offense, at least not at the moment.

"We're taking all of these complaints seriously and we continue to look into to them," Mr. Graczykowski. "If these things actually took place, what this alleged time wasting amounts to is cheating the city and the taxpayers, and that will not be tolerated going forward."

Some other recommendations highlighted by the City Manager in his report were to initiate what is referred to as "reverse 911" call system, which allows governmental agencies to communicate with the public more rapidly.

Mr. Graczykowski also said the city should look into serving as a host for a Rhode Island emergency management agency (RIEMA) regional shelter. He noted East Providence's size could qualify it to receive RIEMA funding for provisions to stock the shelter.

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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.