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17 inches fall, but snow emergencies lifted in Middletown and Lower Swatara

By Dan Miller, danmiller@pressandjournal.com
Posted 3/14/17

Crews in Middletown and surrounding municipalities worked virtually nonstop from the early morning hours of Tuesday, March 14, through the evening and beyond to cope with a snowstorm that had dumped …

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17 inches fall, but snow emergencies lifted in Middletown and Lower Swatara


Crews in Middletown and surrounding municipalities worked virtually nonstop from the early morning hours of Tuesday, March 14, through the evening and beyond to cope with a snowstorm that had dumped about 17 inches of the white stuff on the area by Tuesday evening.
Winter Storm Stella canceled classes and closed businesses, and Gov. Tom Wolf asked people not to drive on Tuesday unless it was a necessity. That led many in the area to stay home and shovel out — and gave youngsters a chance to play in the snow.
However, both Middletown and Lower Swatara Township lifted their snow emergencies Tuesday evening, Middletown at 6:30 p.m. and Lower Swatara at 11 p.m. That means parking restrictions are lifted.
In Middletown, two of the eight total people available in the public works department stayed overnight and began plowing at 2 a.m. Tuesday, along with two other public works employees who arrived, said Greg Wilsbach, the borough’s public works director.
Another public works employee arrived to start plowing at 4 a.m., and two more fresh workers began at 7 a.m.
“We split the shifts up a little bit” so that when the workers who started earlier begin to “pucker out,” the fresh bodies keep going, said Wilsbach, who was among those plowing.
The efforts continued well into Tuesday evening, with a skeleton crew plowing overnight into Wednesday. The day time effort Wednesday was focused on clearing out snow from the downtown business district and from the parking areas around the borough building.
Fewer tickets for parking 
As of Tuesday afternoon, Mayor James H. Curry III said that police had written 35 parking tickets to motorists since 6 p.m. Monday night, when an emergency declaration went in place ordering motorists to move their vehicles out of spaces in the designated snow emergency routes. The 35 tickets included 10 motorists whose vehicles were towed, the mayor said. 
Curry contrasted that with the first snowfall earlier this year, when police wrote about 230 tickets following a similar emergency declaration that the mayor had issued. In that case, he decided to not have any cars towed but just to issue tickets.
Greater compliance “has made a great deal of difference for Greg Wilsbach and his team,” Curry said. “They have been able to go on these snow emergency routes totally unhindered by anything blocking them.”
“The police were on Facebook, we did a Nixle alert and used the borough Facebook page and the borough website,” Wilsbach said.
In addition, borough police also went through the snow emergency routes and did a public address announcement to further inform residents of the snow emergency, Wilsbach said.
Lower Swatara helps neighbor
In Lower Swatara Township, the board of commissioners approved a disaster declaration at 5 p.m. Monday, March 13. As with Middletown, the declaration allows the township to bypass bidding and purchasing requirements if necessary and puts the township in line for any federal disaster funds, said Frank Williamson, director of public safety and assistant township manager.
Township public works crews started plowing around midnight as Monday rolled into early Tuesday. 
Most township residents complied with the parking ban, which makes the job easier, Williamson said. However, the snow is wet and heavy compared to Jonas in 2016, which has made it more difficult to push the snow off the roads, Williamson said.
Lower Swatara had one plow truck it was not using, so the township loaned it to Penbrook borough. The small borough has two plow trucks but they both broke down, Williamson said. Lower Swatara responded to a request for assistance that Penbrook put out through Dauphin County. The borough can keep using the township truck until their own trucks get fixed, or until the township needs the truck, Williamson said.

Special declaration
In Middletown, borough council during a special meeting called Tuesday afternoon approved a disaster declaration at the urging of Curry. 
The declaration allows the borough to bypass time-consuming competitive bidding requirements if outside help such as private contractors have to be hired to assist with the plowing or with the removal of snow. 
The declaration also will allow the borough to apply to the state through Dauphin County to get reimbursement for costs related to the snow disaster, such as paying overtime or having to hire outside contractors.
The mayor and council did the same thing in January 2016 as a result of the record-breaking winter storm Jonas that dumped 30.2 inches of snow on the region.
That time the borough did end up hiring outside contractors. There was so much snow that the only way to clear the streets was to bring in additional dump trucks that were used to remove the snow and take it to Hoffer Park.
Wilsbach said he doesn’t think that will be necessary this time because some warm days next week should melt much of it, “so at this point we are not looking to bring in extra contractors.”
Middletown Area School District 
Middletown Area School District Superintendent Lori Suski said her director of operations and four members of the maintenance crew spent early Tuesday working for the school district and had been out plowing since 2 a.m. Tuesday.
More district maintenance workers came on shift at 4 a.m. and at 7:30 a.m. and continued removing snow in teams throughout all day Tuesday, Suski said.
The school district has two mini-tractors, one tractor, three pickup trucks with plows, a bucket truck with a plow, and a dump truck. 
“We typically do our own snow removal, but last year with January’s mega-storm (the district) contracted for additional support through our site contractor on the (new) high school project, since 30-plus inches of snow was a lot to remove with smaller equipment,” Suski said.
But the contractor did not have any equipment to assist the school district until Wednesday morning, Suski said.
Friday, March 17, has already been scheduled as the snow-makeup day for Tuesday. Students were to be off on March 17 for a staff development day, but now teachers will make that day up in June, Suski said.
“All districts have snow makeup days, so the safety of our students comes first,” Suski said.
Be patient
Wilsbach asks that residents be patient, especially when a borough plow truck comes through and plows you back in after you have shoveled out your car.
“Some people just dig out too early and unfortunately we come by a couple more times. They are going to get plowed back in. There’s nothing we can do about it,” Wilsbach said.
Curry recommended that when people shovel out their cars that they throw the snow on their own yard, or in a no-parking area such as a yellow-curb area, if one is nearby.
He asked that people not throw the snow back out into the street. Besides being a nuisance, this also makes it more likely that the spot you just spent hours shoveling out will get plowed back in when the borough snow plow has to make a return trip, the mayor said.
In addition, the mayor asked that motorists not place chairs or other large items in a parking space in an attempt to reserve a cleared spot for their own use.
As for sidewalks — borough ordinances say residents have 24 hours from when the snow stops to clear sidewalks in front of their property, said Borough Manager Ken Klinepeter.