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State DOT: North country roads are “passable”

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Most north country roads were passable by Monday morning following an ice storm over the weekend that led to a travel ban and widespread power outages.

State Department of Transportation spokesman Michael R. Flick still was advising Northern New York residents to “exercise common sense” and refrain from driving Monday morning unless necessary.

“State highways are passable, open and fine. But if you don’t have to go out, don’t,” he said.

Last-minute Christmas shopping did not rank high on Mr. Flick’s list of necessary tasks for Monday.

Jefferson County’s “no unnecessary travel” warning was downgraded to a travel advisory shortly after 3 p.m.

However, county officials still were cautioning motorists of slippery road conditions on some secondary roads and asked travelers to watch out for falling ice and tree limbs.

The worst of the storm hit the north country overnight Saturday and on Sunday, leading to many county and town road closures.

The village of Sackets Harbor, for instance, was still “officially” closed to traffic Monday morning — although motorists were traveling on some village roads.

Jefferson and St. Lawrence counties declared a state of emergency Sunday. But state highways remained open for the most part, thanks to some standard preparation work on the DOT’s part.

“We try to focus more on anti-icing than de-icing,” Mr. Flick said.

By putting salt down before the ice storm hit, the DOT workers were able to create a layer of water under the ice — making it easier to remove with plows.

Over the weekend, state and local highway department workers also responded to a few incidents of downed trees, but Mr. Flick said he did not have statistics available Monday.

Jefferson County Fire and Emergency Management Director Joseph D. Plummer said St. Lawrence Riverfront villages — including Cape Vincent, Clayton and Alexandria Bay — were suffering the most Monday from the harsh after-effects of the storm.

The towns of Henderson and Hounsfield also were among the north country communities most affected by the ice storm.

According to the National Grid website, about 13,000 customers in Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties were without power Monday afternoon.

Melanie C. Littlejohn, National Grid’s regional executive director of central New York, said most homes should have electricity by tonight.

Approximately 1,600 company workers were dealing with the aftermath of the storm Monday.

Compared to the 1998 ice storm when thousands of customers were without power for weeks, the army of crews — some from New York City, New Jersey and as far away as Ohio — “did a great job” getting power restored, said Jefferson County legislative Chairwoman Carolyn D. Fitzpatrick, R-Watertown.

Some of the difference can be attributed to the storm itself, Ms. Littlejohn said. In 1998, thousands of utility poles fell from the crush of ice, crippling the entire electric system infrastructure. This time, it was mostly trees and power lines that became victims of the ice, she said.

Flights into and out of Watertown International Airport were cancelled Monday due to the inclement weather. American Airlines began cancelling flights to and from the airport at 5:35 p.m. Friday, according to information from airport staff. Travelers were urged to make alternative flight arrangements as quickly as possible. As of late Monday afternoon, the only available seats were on Christmas Day flights.

The city Department of Public Works is requesting assistance with addressing storm related issues.

A statement from the city read “Our first priority is to maintain passable and safe roadways within the City. Please adhere to City Code 293-21c that restricts parking on all city streets between the hours of 2:00 a.m. and 6:00 a.m.”

The statement noted the removal of downed branches and limbs “will be an ongoing effort and is expected to take a number of weeks. Tree branches should be a manageable length, no longer than 5 to 6 feet, be stacked in an area that does not obstruct sidewalks, and have at least a 2 feet clearance from the road edge.”

With the amount of snow along road shoulders, Mr. Plummer said, it might not be until spring that all of the branches, limbs and brush finally get picked up.

“We’re in this for the long haul,” he said.

Other elements of north country life also were hit by the storm.

The New York State Zoo at Thompson Park will be closed indefinitely until staff have had a chance to evaluate the safety of both exhibits and walkways.

In an email to media, marketing director Kurt T. Hunt said that, though some trees were damaged, the zoo’s animals weathered the storm well and its exhibits were not significantly damaged.

However, Mr. Hunt said that the zoo’s Winter Zoofari camp still is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Thursday.

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