Inside Your Town

Snow clean-up has cost Bethlehem $300,000 in one week, mayor says

BETHLEHEM, Pa. - Snow has cost Bethlehem about $300,000 in just one week, Mayor Robert Donchez told City Council Tuesday night.

The past week has been very difficult, said Donchez. "We've had 20 inches of snow within one week. We have spent approximately $300,000 in the last week."

The mayor told council the amount of snow already removed from city streets is larger than a football field and 15 feet high. He said all that snow has been taken to Sand Island West. "We're running out of space for snow removal."

He said compounding the problem is there has been very little melting of the snow that has fallen in the last three weeks.

"This is the third or fourth snowiest winter we've had," said Donchez.

The mayor said the city declared a snow emergency and hired outside contractors to assist with snow removal. He said there also have been weather-related equipment breakdowns, some water main breaks and even one sinkhole.

He said that $300,000 cost will impact the city budget and promised council a more detailed report, possibly at its next meeting.

Donchez said city crews have done an outstanding job of clearing snow, saying they have been working 12-hour shifts for almost a week.

"We've received many emails and calls from people complimenting us. For the most part, the public has been overwhelmingly very understanding of the situation that we're in-- when you get 20 inches of snow in one week."

Council president J. William Reynolds told the mayor that City Council has received some complaints that snow-related communication between the city and its residents has not been as efficient as it could be.

The mayor said every phone call or email that came into his office got a response from him or a member of his staff. He said he also went out and visited many homes.

Donchez said the city intends to completely revamp the city's website, to make it more interactive and consumer friendly. "We have to be more interactive, where we can send out emails to residents." He said the city has that capability now, but it is only used for water service breakdowns. He added the city also could do robo-calls.

Michael Alkhal, the city's public works director, reported to council that Bethlehem's main roads are in great shape and most of its secondary roads are in fairly good shape.

"We've done really well in trying to serve the residents as best we can," said Alkhal.
"Overall, plowing-wise, we've done fairly well. We've been removing snow round-the-clock since the night shift of the past Friday."

Alkhal added: "We got to some roads later than I would have liked. We're still struggling with alleys."

The public works director told council the biggest remaining challenge is the amount of snow that still must be cleared in parking lanes, at intersection corners and at schools and other areas used by school buses.

Alkhal said another concern is that "a lot of the roads that are tight, that have parking on both sides, become only one lane. We're trying to do our best, and do it as quickly as we can, to free up those streets, to make them as safe and as passable as possible and reduce the amount of inconvenience and frustration on those streets."

He said the city has been using road salt sparingly, adding: "It's a good thing we did because, if we hadn't, we'd be in deep trouble in this latest bout with the storms."

"We've had very little forgiving temperatures," said Alkhal. "We need some help from Mother Nature as well."

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