• Joseph F. Berenato

Town and schools have plan for snow


Because the potential for snowfall exists at any time throughout the winter months, local officials have been making sure that the town is ready at a moment’s notice, should the need arise. (Courtesy Photo)

HAMMONTON—The town and school district has been looking at its plan for snow this winter.

On October 15, 2020, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released its winter outlook for 2020-21, predicting higher-than-average temperatures and average precipitation for the region. However, NOAA’s website notes that the outlook does not project snowfall accumulations, as “snow forecasts are generally not predictable more than a week in advance.”


Because the potential for snowfall exists at any time throughout the winter months, local officials have been making sure that the town is ready at a moment’s notice, should the need arise.


“I think we’re in pretty good shape ... We had purchased some additional equipment a few years ago and updated some trucks, so we’re still in pretty good shape in that respect,” said Mayor Stephen DiDonato.


DiDonato said that Public Works Department Head Scott Rivera has been performing maintenance on the necessary equipment.


“They’ve checked the blades and different trucks, and made sure all the plows are in good shape. That way, we are ready,” DiDonato said.


Councilman Sam Rodio, chair of the Public Works and Transportation Committee, explained further.


“Ever since we made that commitment three or four years back and Scott bought the 350s and we put snow plows them and we put salting equipment on the back of them. A lot of towns have gone to that size truck with the community streets the way that they are, and they really work well. I think we’re very well-equipped. We have the manpower. I’ve been really proud; we’re much more prepared than we were 10 years ago. Of course, any major two-foot snowfall, everybody is going to be under the gun for a couple of days, but any kind of three, four, five-inch snowfall, even six to eight or 10 inches of snow, we’re ready. We’re equipped. We’re ready to go,” Rodio said, noting that the town also has three large dump trucks, three small dump trucks, a front-end loader and several plows in its arsenal.


Rivera agreed with Rodio.


“We have salters, rear salters, we have a brine tank, we have the larger equipment ... We’re in fairly good shape, equipment-wise. We’re always upgrading and always replacing stuff,” Rivera said.


Rodio said that the department regularly works on upgrading the equipment.


“We talk all the time, and I sign POs (purchase orders) all the time, whether he needs blades or whatever he might need, those rubber pieces that go across the bottom of the snow plow, if salting equipment needs to get serviced or whatever. We stay up on it every year, because you never know. Winter is here, and there could be a snowstorm four days from now. You have to be ready,” Rodio said.


One major component of preparing for inclement weather during this time of year is an ample salt supply. Rodio said that the town is ready on that front, as well.


“The salt supply looks good, as far as I know. We have that co-op with the county. We don’t even store salt anymore at the highway garage. We go right to the county yard on Egg Harbor Road and they have never, not once, whether we went in there with a small truck or a six-wheel dump truck to get whatever we needed, we’ve never had an issue. They seem to be very well-supplied. They have not told us anything different from that,” Rodio said.


DiDonato said that he does not foresee being in short supply, but unpredictable weather can always be a factor.


“That depends on the activity of the year as it goes and how much activity up and down the East Coast. That’s always a possibility, depending on the severity and the volume of storms. Let’s hope we don’t have anything like that volume,” DiDonato said.


Rivera said that one of the challenges the town faces during heavier snowfalls relates to personnel.


“You’ve got to have enough bodies to keep behind the wheel ... I pull other staff in from other departments to help us out when we’re short at times, between the utility guys and some of the police officers come and help us who have CDLs (commercial driver’s licenses),” he said.


DiDonato agreed with Rivera.


“We have quite a few drivers with CDL licenses. We also have ample drivers—we have some firemen, some police, other town employees that’ll step up and push snow if they have to—so I think we’re pretty much ready. We’re not too anxious for snow, but we’ll do what we have to do,” DiDonato said.


Rivera said that even Frank Zuber, the town’s business administrator, has been known to assist with snow removal.


“We trained him a couple of years ago; he’s come out and helped us, too, in a pinch. It’s all hands on deck when the storms happen. He did good; he’d never done it before. It was like three years ago. We were short-staffed, and I said, ‘come over; I’ll train you.’ I got him behind the wheel of one of the smaller trucks—a 350—that he didn’t need a CDL for. He got the hang of it, and once I felt he was good and secure he went on his way,” Rivera said.


Sam Mento III, the president of the Hammonton Board of Education, noted that the school district was ready for whatever snow may come their way, as well.


“We have a great team and system in place at the Hammonton school district. It is like a small city that we’re responsible for cleaning. We’ve always been so appreciative of Mr. Bob Capoferri for all of his help and generosity through the years. Whenever we would get a large storm, he would be quick to send over a few men in large equipment and help get us into the Road to Excellence. From there, our team takes over. Frank LaSasso, Toni Mazza and Sharon DeNafo all work together and do a great job getting the parking lots, buses and sidewalks cleaned and prepared for our students, faculty and staff,” Mento said.


In preparation for storms, Rivera said that he monitors ground temperatures, air pressure and other factors.


“We have a weather service that provides us with that information, and a couple of other websites I use just to bounce it back and forth, so we’re covered. Any chance of sleet or snow, something like that, we either apply brine to the roadways or salt applications to the roadways; sometimes, there are multiple applications. It all depends. Every storm is different, so it’s hard to gauge and say that this is what we’re doing every single time, because it changes. Sometimes it changes from rain to snow then back to rain; it all depends on the ground temperatures and air pressure,” he said.


The difference in storms also determines the town’s response.


“Some storms, we’ll wait until they’re done until we push it all. Some storms, depending on the severity of them, we have to push through the whole storm, just to keep on top of it. We’ve had to do that in years past,” Rivera said.


One of the many challenges facing Hammonton’s road crews during snow removal comes in the form of residents who choose to park their vehicles on the street, blocking their driveway in an attempt to keep snow from piling up in front of it.


“It’s harder to open the roadway and keep it safe, so that’s always an obstacle that we deal with. The police department helps us out as much as possible with getting vehicles off the road, but they can’t be everywhere and we always run into somebody ... It’s always better to have your vehicle inside your driveway, because then it’s less snow-covering surface. Your vehicle is covering it, so you can clean out behind your vehicle, back it out, clean out the rest of the driveway and you can put your vehicle back in. It’s less shoveling for you,” Rivera said.


Another perilous condition, Rivera said, comes when residents shovel snow from their sidewalk onto the street.


“That creates icy hazard spots, instead of throwing it on their grass. After we go by and plow and salt, then they throw snow on top of it, and sometimes it makes slick spots. When we see them, we try to stop it as much as possible, telling them to throw snow from their yard onto their grass,” Rivera said.


For many families—and budding entrepreneurs—the time needed to shovel sidewalks and driveways, as well as for other recreational activities, is often afforded in the form of snow days from school. However, there is the possibility that they will be in short supply this season.


Superintendent of Schools Robin Chieco said that school districts throughout the state were provided guidance “related to snow days and the ability to provide remote instruction in lieu of calling a snow day.”


That guidance, in accordance with N.J.S.A. 18A:7F-9, P.L.2020, c.27 (A3904), states that, because the state is still under a public health emergency, “school districts can provide remote instruction in lieu of a snow day this year. When the State is no longer under this public health emergency, the authorization to use virtual/remote instruction in lieu of a snow day will only apply if the district is closed for more than three consecutive school days due to a declared state of emergency declared public health emergency, or a directive by the appropriate health agency or officer to institute a public health-related closure.”


“This only applies because the state of New Jersey is still under the health emergency declared in the spring. Therefore, as long as we remain in the health emergency, should the need arise to physically close the buildings due to unsafe weather conditions, we would utilize a remote learning day rather than add additional days to the school calendar,” Chieco told The Gazette.


Mento, however, said that he is “not against” having snow days if necessary.


“From what I understand, Trenton has spoken, and they say there is no need for snow days in this virtual reality that we are currently living in, but I respectfully disagree ... I think it’s great for the mental health and physical activity of our kids. It’s something that is so rare anymore, and I think it should remain a time-honored tradition, regardless of the current situation with COVID-19, because we need some type of normalcy, and what’s more normal than making a snowman and having a snowball fight? There’s nothing better,” Mento said.


The town officials agree, however, that it would be best if there were not enough snowfall to warrant such decisions.


“The past couple of years, we’ve been very lucky, and hopefully, maybe, the luck will stay that way,” Rodio said.


Rivera concurred.


“Hopefully we won’t get anything. I tell people whenever we get missed by a storm: just keep cooking the pasta. We’re changing the barometric pressure with the steam and keeping our bubble going. Just keep cooking the pasta, keep the steam going and everything will be fine,” Rivera said jokingly.