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D.C. officials assess local response to massive blizzard

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 26: Pedestrians traverse piles of snow and slush puddles as they attempt to cross narrowed streets in the Columbia Heights neighborhood following the weekend blizzard January 26, 2016 in Washington, DC. The east coast is still digging out from Winter Storm Jonas that hit the East Coast over the weekend, breaking snowfall records, causing 29 storm-related deaths, and serious flooding in coastal areas. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — D.C. spent more than eight years’ worth of snow removal money on the blizzard of 2016, but officials promise funds will be available for future events if needed.

“We’re still assessing damage and final costs. However, the current total, as of today, is $55.3 million,” said Chris T. Geldart, D.C.’s director of Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency.

Geldart made the announcement at a D.C. Council Committee hearing Thursday that assessed the city’s response to the storm.  

“Annually there’s $6.2 million allocated for snow response,” D.C. Department of Public Works Director Chris Shorter said. “Thanks to the mayor and the city administrator, resources weren’t a concern. Throughout this storm, we had what we needed.”

Shorter also testified that city resources for snow removal would be available whatever the rest of winter might bring.

If the feds accept D.C.’s request for a storm-related disaster declaration, Geldart said the government would reimburse the city for up to 75 percent of storm-related expenses.

Sidewalks dominated multiple discussions at the hearing. Concerns were raised about clogged walkways creating dangerous conditions for pedestrians forced onto streets, and those with limited mobility or who use wheelchairs.

Elected officials and members of the public complained about sidewalks and curb cuts. Some plow operators and businesses made conditions worse by creating large snow piles.

“Let’s now, while it’s fresh in our minds, identify those orphaned sidewalks, those neglected areas, those areas that even nominally someone may be responsible for but are always left behind,” Councilwoman Mary Cheh appealed to those gathered.

“And then make sure when we have our planning that some responsibility be allocated and checking done to make sure that those [areas] are actually attended to,” Cheh proposed.

Providing some of her own examples, Cheh says perennially ignored areas include sidewalks at odd triangular intersections, along parkland, and in front of abandoned embassies.

Also during the hearing, the National Park Service was criticized from multiple parties for not clearing snow from areas in and around city parks such as Stanton Park in Northeast and Lincoln Park along East Capitol Street.

There was talk about re-designating some alleys as streets so they could be added to snow removal routes.

And discussion about making formal partnerships with Business Improvement Districts to use their staff during storms.

“The manpower is there, the equipment is there … the time, the energy,” Councilman Charles Allen said while noting he’d welcome an alternative to hiring outside contractors.

“I’d like to keep it local,” Allen said.

D.C. removed 4.5 million cubic feet of snow from city streets responding to January’s storm. That’s equivalent to more than 10.6 million gallons of water. Much of that snow was hauled to parking lot 7 at RFK Stadium in Northeast.

In past years, the snow melt from those piles was allowed to flow into the Anacostia River.

This year, testimony at the hearing noted that booms put out by the D.C. Department of Energy and Environment prevented contaminants from flowing into the river.

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