The Download: The politics of snow removal

With four major storms under the region’s collective belt and area snowfall totals poised to break the Shaq-o-meter, state lawmakers and municipal officials are bringing increased attention to snow removal infractions.

While the antics of drivers in the nation’s capital who haven’t mastered snow driving 101 make for an amusing read, some Massachusetts drivers obviously need a refresher course. Winter driving basics dictate that removing snow from the hood of a car or the roof of a truck is the prudent and courteous thing to do. But many people seem to run out of gas before they clear off the tops of their vehicles.

Which is where Rep. Cleon Turner, the Dennis Democrat, comes in. He has once again filed two snow removal bills aimed at vehicles. One proposal would require drivers to remove all snow from a car before driving off. The second would mandate that drivers of larger vehicles remove snow and ice or face fines ranging from $50 to $500.

Whether the winter of 2010-11 gives Turner’s bills the big mo they need to make it past the study committees to which they have always been consigned (the “Beacon Hill equivalent of winding up at the bottom of a snowbank,” according to the Cape Cod Times) is as about as predictable as a nor’easter. Turner told the Cape paper that, in the past, the state trucking industry has opposed the bill and that local police never turned up in sufficient numbers to support it.

Indeed, Rep. Randy Hunt, a Sandwich Republican, who opposes the bills, said that he doesn’t believe in “legislating common sense.” Unfortunately, as the saying goes, common sense isn’t common.  Just last year, the Supreme Judicial Court ruled that property owners were liable for injuries incurred on their holdings if they failed to keep them in a “reasonably safe condition” after a snowfall.  

That decision has yet to lead to a raft of new municipal policies (or lawsuits), although this winter might test how far the litigious among us are willing to go.  Newton recently defeated a stronger snow removal law. Like Hunt, one Newton alderman believed that guilt-tripping one’s neighbors into shoveling is better than trying to mandate that they do so. The Boston Globe has a round-up of snow removal policies in a few suburban towns hereThe Berkshire Eagle surveys some of the policies in western Mass communities: Did you know that snowblowers are exempted from Pittsfield’s overnight noise ordinance?

A Springfield Republican editorial cuts to the chase: The sidewalk is a right of way and failing to shovel it is “unneighborly, uncivilized, antisocial, unconscionable.”

As for what not to do with truckloads of the white stuff, here’s a cautionary tale from Lawrence.  Mayor William Lantigua caught one contractor who illegally dumped snow (origin: North Andover) into the Merrimac River in violation of federal and state regulations that prohibit depositing snow into waterways.  He’s also suspended several Lawrence public works employees who allegedly made the same mistake.

The Bay State’s decade-old snow disposal guidelines for private businesses and local, state, federal agencies are here. But the workers obviously missed a recent state Department of Environmental Protection reminder cautioning “all municipal, business, and private snow plow operators to safely move and dispose of snow in a manner that avoids any potential negative consequences for drinking water wells, waterways or wetlands.”

As Massachusetts municipalities run out of places to put the snow, they are also well on their way to plowing through their snow removal budgets. Across the snowbelt, it’s the same story and some communities are considering turning to Washington for financial relief. But like anything else, asking for assistance from Uncle Sam means cities and states must meet a very specific set of criteria for emergency dollars.

                                                                                                                                                                            –GABRIELLE GURLEY

EGYPT

Politico rounds up the reaction by GOP presidential contenders to what’s happening in Egypt, summing it up in Twitteresque bites. Via The Weekly Standard.

BEACON HILL

Rep. Vincent Pedone, a Worcester Democrat, wants the state to create a tax break for video game companies, declaring, “We want to make Massachusetts the hub of the universe for video game design.” It seems doubtful that this is the sort of thing Oliver Wendell Holmes had in mind. Pedone acknowledged to the Globe that “on the heels of the Evergreen Solar announcement, members of the Legislature are a little skittish on tax credits.” Do you think?

PENSIONS

The Boston-based investor who first blew the whistle on Bernard Madoff is alleging state pension funds have been bilked out of tens of millions of dollars on foreign-exchange transactions. 

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is the latest official to call for an overhaul of public pension plans. Two weeks ago, Gov. Deval Patrick announced a plan to raise the state’s retirement age.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, wants to close a $3.6 billion budget deficit, in part, by steering new hires into a 401(k)-style retirement plan that would lack guarantee payouts.

MUNICIPAL AFFAIRS

In the aftermath of Vertex Pharmaceuticals’ defection to Boston, Cambridge city councilors scold one of their own for cozying up to Mayor Tom Menino. A Herald editorial warns against considering the company’s lateral move a win for Massachusetts taxpayers as a whole – “and that really should be the point when financial incentives are dangled in front of private businesses,” the paper argues. 

EDUCATION

Boston school officials outlined last night how they plan to close a $63 million budget gap.

Dorothy Presser, a member of the Lynnfield School Committee and president of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees, outlines the key factors in teacher evaluations in a Salem News column.

DOMESTIC VIOLENCE

Last week’s homeless census in New Bedford found that the number of domestic violence victims in shelters tripled over last year even though the overall number of homeless dropped from the previous year, the Standard Times reports

HEALTH CARE

The US Senate failed to follow the House in scrapping health care reform

Federal officials are debating whether to use the new health care law to require insurers to provide free contraceptives

In the fourth report of its series, “Are the kids all right?” WBUR reports on a severe shortage of pediatric mental health providers in Massachusetts.

TRANSPORTATION

Seven Massport parking lot attendants pocketed more than $100,000 in pay last year. One pulled in $117,000 off a base salary of $54,340.

RELIGION

The Archdiocese of Boston is reorganizing its parish structure to account for plummeting church attendance.

ELECTION 2012

WBUR’s health blog, CommonHealth, examines Mitt Romney’s push for health reform in Massachusetts and his opposition to similar efforts by President Obama at the federal level.

ENERGY AND THE ENVIRONMENT

“Greater Boston” puts the focus on the state’s unregulated approach that allows utilities to put up new poles while leaving the old ones in place, creating aesthetic, financial and safety problems.

US Sen. Mark Kirk, an Illinois Republican, argues that Al Gore is to blame for the collapse of the climate change bill. Via Political Wire

ECONOMY/BUSINESS

A slightly-improved economy means the federal government won’t run out of money until as late as May, and not March, as previously thought. So, hooray?

It seems Evergreen Solar’s sudden closing wasn’t that sudden after all, as CEO Michael El-Hillow tells Bloomberg Business there were challenges from the start. Via Mass Market.

A Superior Court judge ordered state Sen. Michael Rodrigues to take down a billboard on his flooring company property in Westport, saying state and local officials should never have granted the permit for the 76-foot structure.

USA Today explores the effects of winter storms on the economy and businesses. Auto dealers in western Massachusetts are especially unhappy since snow-covered, unsold cars means constant work to keep them in saleable condition. A little snow isn’t deterring shoppers on the Cape, however.

MORE SNOWMAGGEDON

Please let the onslaught stop. Snowfall? No, the blizzard of snow stories that we continue to be buried in. Today’s Globe has something about troubles in Egypt crowding the top of the front page, with two snow stories – the physical and psychic toll being exacted and the fashion toll the snow is taking – pushed below the fold. Do not fear, however. The entire front of the Metro section is devoted to the fact that it’s been snowing here in New England in the winter, with a primer on snow shoveling, and then three stories looking at how the people in your neighborhood are faring through it all: trash collectors, bus drivers, and dog walkers. In her snow job, Yvonne Abraham at least has the decency to lament the toll this is all taking on coverage of global striving for democracy in the Middle East, state budget woes, and other important stuff. 

As roofs collapsed under the weight of snow and ice, the state had an urban search and rescue team on standby. The Eagle-Tribune reports no one was trapped and the team was never called into service.

To widen streets a bit, Lynn tells residents they can only park on one side, according to a story in the Item.

The storms test the MBTA’s limits, but MBTA General Manager Richard Davey blames many of the problems on aging equipment. Orange and Red Line trains are 30 and 40 years old, respectively, he tells WBUR.

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