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Communities weather big storm

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Posted: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 2:20 pm | Updated: 4:07 pm, Mon Feb 18, 2013.

Local public works crews have been on call 24 hours a day since last weekend’s blizzard hit Maine. More than 2 feet of snow was dumped on Biddeford, Saco and Old Orchard Beach.

The cleanup began on Sunday and will continue through this week, but forecasters and public works directors also have their eye on the possibility that another big snow storm will hit the area this coming weekend.

And, Monday’s snow, sleet and rain, also caused headaches for weary public works crews and drivers alike. Monday’s storm caused street flooding and at least one accident, at the corner of Jefferson and Washington streets in downtown Biddeford.

Patrick Fox, Saco’s public works director, said this week that the storm was one of the worst many of his plow drivers had seen in their careers. The howling winds caused blowing snow and whiteout conditions during much of Saturday.

Fox said most people seemed to heed the advice to stay off the roads, and said that there was at least a five- to six-hour period on Saturday where it would have been “very difficult to get anywhere.”

He said the focus during the storm was to keep Saco’s major streets clear and to help the police and fire departments when they had to respond to a call for emergency assistance.

“Our big focus since Sunday has been to get the sidewalks cleared, especially those within a mile of any schools,” Fox said. “We are continuing with the cleanup, and after the storm we worked to restore service to the main roads and side streets as fast as we possibly could.”

Fox said there was some erosion and damage to roads and infrastructure in the Camp Ellis and Ferry Beach areas of Saco, which are highly vulnerable to coastal flooding.

“But the damage was far less than we anticipated,” he said.

“I know there is some talk of another storm this weekend, but right now my crews are looking forward to a few quiet days off,” Fox added.

In Biddeford several coastal roads were closed due to flooding during Saturday’s high tide, according to Guy Casavant, the city’s public works director.

He said sections of Granite Point, Mile Stretch and Fortunes Rocks roads, for instance, were “underwater at high tide” and those coastal roads were closed for awhile.

All in all, however, Casavant said, the city “did pretty well” with the 27 to 30 inches of snow that fell during the two-day blizzard. As in other communities, Biddeford Public Works is continuing to work on cleanup efforts throughout this week and localized parking bans will be occurring as crews remove the snow.

Casavant, too, said Monday’s storm added to the difficulty of cleaning up from the blizzard and it also made the streets even harder to navigate for both drivers and pedestrians.

Casavant said the area may get a small amount of snow on Wednesday and Thursday, in addition to the storm forecast for this weekend.

“At this point, even a small storm hurts because we have nowhere to push the snow,” he said.

Casavant’s major focus was keeping the main roads open. He said there was only one emergency call where the police needed help from public works crews to get access. Otherwise, Casavant said, the fire department’s own 1-ton plow truck was able to clear the way for ambulances and fire trucks.

In addition to his own crews, Casavant has hired some private contractors to help with the cleanup efforts, and said the lights haven’t been out at public works since early Friday morning.

In Old Orchard Beach, Mike Perrone, the interim public works director, was able to keep his 11-man crew going with Vitamin water and “plenty of food.”

“Considering the number of guys we had, I think we did an awesome job given the conditions. I’ve never seen anything like this,” Perrone said.

He said the goal this week is to continue to haul snow and get the sidewalks opened up. He thanked residents of Old Orchard Beach for their patience and said his crew will be doing what’s necessary this week to prepare for the possibility of another storm this weekend.

In terms of coastal flooding, Perrone said, Old Orchard Beach made out pretty well. He said there was “strong wave action” on Saturday during high tide, but the flooding was limited.

In fact, Perrone said, Monday’s sleet and rain caused more street flooding than the two-day blizzard.

Since it’s been a fairly dry and quiet winter so far, the public works departments in the tri-town area all still within budget and still have plenty of sand and salt on hand.

As of Tuesday afternoon, The Weather Channel said, “Although it is very early in the process, some of our model guidance has been suggesting a significant snow and wind event for the mid-Atlantic through Northeast this weekend.”

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