Streets and Sanitation bracing for a brutal winter

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City salt truck at work on East 35th Street during 2012 snow fall. File Photo. | John H. White~Sun-Times.

Chicagoans were spared and somewhat spoiled by a comparatively mild and snow-free winter last year, but don’t get used to it.

Streets and Sanitation Commissioner Charles Williams delivered the cold news Wednesday while on the hot seat at City Council budget hearings.

Williams said he’s bracing for 16 more inches of snow this winter with a November that “will turn on us” and a first snowfall occurring the week of Thanksgiving.

He’s also expecting temperatures below normal in January and February.

“It’s gonna be a bad winter,” Williams said.

“We’re ready. We’re gonna be starting the season with about 370,000 tons of salt. Our equipment is ready. Our crews are ready. Our communications are ready.”

Ald. Debra Silverstein (50th) nervously said, “It’s gonna run like clockwork, right?”

Williams replied, “You’re talking about weather. Mother Nature can always throw you a curve.”

But, he also reminded Silverstein of what happened in January 2015.

That’s when Mayor Rahm Emanuel spent $10.2 million on the cleanup from a Super Bowl Sunday blizzard that buried the city in 19.3 inches of snow and had the potential to bury his re-election campaign.

“We received almost 20 inches of snow overnight on aSunday. And yet,Mondaymorning when people got up and they got to their main streets, you were able to take the bus. You could drive down a main street. You were able to get to work,” the commissioner said.

“The key with any snow removal is to make sure that your main arterial streets remain open so that your folks can get to work. Commerce can move. Emergency vehicles can move. And nobody gets stuck. We get to the side streets as soon as the snow stops, and we work on those. But the key is not to lose your main streets. Make sure your commerce is constantly going, and we did that right after a blizzard.”

Silverstein replied, “Okay then. Let’s hope that it runs very smoothly.”

Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) added, “It’s really hard to talk about blizzards when baseball season hasn’t even ended yet.”

Last winter, Chicago got hit with roughly 30 inches of snow. This year, Chicago is bracing for 45 to 47 inches.

The sobering forecast for a bitter cold and snowy winter was not the only concern at Wednesday’s budget hearing for Streets and Sanitation, a department that can “make or break” an alderman, as Hopkins put it.

Aldermen also railed about Williams’ decision to saddle their ward superintendents with the smelly job of removing dead animals.

Previously, Streets and San had four trucks assigned to dead animal recovery. But, 51 percent of the time, the crews show up on the scene and find no animal to remove. They were “getting a great tour of the city,” the commissioner said.

To cut costs, Williams is keeping one dead animal truck and assigning the other three to rodent control.

The job of removing small animals, like dead birds or rats, will fall to the ward superintendent. If the dead animal is larger — like a raccoon or a dog — the ward superintendent will be asked to summon the only animal truck that remains citywide.

The policy change didn’t set well with Ald. George Cardenas (12th), among others, who argued that ward superintendents already have their hands full.

“But now to pick up dead animals, commissioner you lost me on that one. I completely disagree. I will not support that move at all. … If I’m meeting with my ward supe and he just got back from picking up a dead animal, that’s gonna be a problem. That could put my family at risk,” Cardenas said.

Ald. Proco Joe Moreno (1st) said he has “no problem” with the decision to reassign dead animal crews to rodent control. Moreno attributed the backlash to ward superintendents who “don’t want to get their hands dirty.”

Cardenas also railed about a recycling program that pays private contractors to make pick-ups they don’t make. If homeowners throw in plastic bags, paper bags or other prohibited items, the cart is tagged and city crews pick up those contaminated carts with other routine garbage.

“Millions of dollars being spent not to do something at a time when we’re hitting people with fees upon fees, increased property taxes, garbage fees. It goes against everything we stand for in this Council,” Cardenas said.

“Something needs to be done in recycling — either completely revamp the program, or we go back and we do it ourselves. Just take it over.”

Williams acknowledged that recycling in Chicago is “not where we need to be. … It’s gone up, but we’re still only 13 percent. It’s got to go up a great deal more.”

But, the commissioner continued to resist calls to ticket residents for recycling mistakes.

“Anyone can drop something in someone’s cart. But, once it’s in there and that cart is contaminated, we’re stuck. We have to put that into the landfill,” he said.

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